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“We Can Make Difference By Rendering Services To The Women And Children” All-female Legal Group Fights In Sierra Leone

Most of the time the children, the women, are not aware of the signs and symptoms. They’re not aware of anything until it had fully happened, so the conversation has to start from the bottom up.”

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Sierra Leone
Fatmata Sorie, president of Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (LAWYERS), is pictured in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Feb. 7, 2019. Pixabay

In Sierra Leone, cases involving the abuse of women have rarely been prosecuted. Spousal abusers, child abusers and even rapists have, too often, walked free.

A group of lawyers and judges — all of them female — has decided to take action to change that.

“We’ve seen a lot of issues affecting our women and girls in our society, and we believe that, with the expertise that we have, we can make a difference by rendering services to the women and children who need it most,” said Fatmata Sorie, an attorney and president of the group Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social justice (LAWYERS).

The group was founded 22 years ago and offers pro bono legal work to those in need. One of the founding members was Patricia Kabbah, a former first lady of Sierra Leone and a lawyer herself.

LAWYERS has about 50 members, and Sorie says they discourage out-of-court settlements in rape cases, preferring to prosecute attackers to the full extent of the law. They also prosecute accessories to the crime. The group conducts outreach to families, encouraging people to break their silence about sexual violence.

FILE - A five-year-old girl poses with her doll as she sits in her wheelchair in the courtyard of the Aberdeen Women's Center, one year after a sexual assault that her family says left her paralyzed, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Feb. 7, 2019.
A five-year-old girl poses with her doll as she sits in her wheelchair in the courtyard of the Aberdeen Women’s Center, one year after a sexual assault that her family says left her paralyzed, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Feb. 7, 2019. VOA

“We also start within our homes because, in most homes, we don’t sit down as parents, as families, to discuss issues,” she said. “So most of the time the children, the women, are not aware of the signs and symptoms. They’re not aware of anything until it had fully happened, so the conversation has to start from the bottom up.”

In an unprecedented move, President Julius Maada Bio in February declared rape and sexual violence a national emergency. The country had more than 8,500 reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence last year, but observers believe thousands of additional cases go unreported.

According to the Rainbo Initiative, a Sierra Leonean organization that helps survivors of gender-based violence, 93 percent of victims treated are younger than 17 years of age, and 24 percent are younger than 11.

rape
The president also created a special police division to handle rape cases. But Sorie believes there is more work to be done. Pixabay

The presidential declaration is already having an effect.

“We believe the most prominent impact so far is that we will have more numbers coming out because people feel more comfortable coming up to report these cases,” Sorie said. “And we also have a situation where the regulations are passed based on the declaration that was made by the president. The process for prosecuting sexual penetration and rape cases would be much shorter based on the instruction and the directives.”

 

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The president also created a special police division to handle rape cases. But Sorie believes there is more work to be done. She would like to see the maximum penalty for rape increased to life in prison from the current limit of 15 years and wants stronger witness-protection programs. She also said the nation needs additional medical facilities to treat rape victims and forensics labs to test DNA samples.

“We need to keep the fight going and to curb this menace within our society,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Stopping Sexual Crimes Against Women

Curbing an animalistic crime

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Rape crimes
It's high time that we start curbing sexual crimes against women. Wikimedia Commons

BY D.C.PATHAK

The recent cases of hapless women being caught unawares by groups of vagrants, raped and then brutally murdered — evidently to block detection and identification of the offenders — have justly evoked an indignant outburst from the nation. The country should have risen earlier to demand accountability of all those who together constituted the criminal justice system, when the sex crimes against women registered a sharp increase over the last few years.

The horrific cases now being reported show how lawless elements in our cities and towns, having enough money to drink together often in public space, ‘hunt in packs’ at the sight of a woman in a vulnerable situation. They display a dangerous mix of lack of fear of law, social degeneration hastened by an excessive exposure to nudity and porn and a perception that the governance of the country — pre-occupied with bigger things — would tend to leave it to local authorities and not come down ‘with a tonne of bricks’ in any individual case. This reading of the scene itself suggests what should go into the strategy of providing safety and security to women.

sexual crimes
The issue of dastardly crimes against women, has now become urgent in the collective conscience of the nation. Pixabay

The issue of dastardly crimes against women, that has now become so urgent in the collective conscience of the nation, might have suffered some neglect earlier because it was caught in a hundred other points of debate ranging from freedom to choose personal life style to paucity of moral education. An offence of rape could be committed within the social circle of people known to each other or could arise out of allegations of violation made by women at the work place. On the other hand, it could be the animalistic crime perpetrated either by a gang of drunken predators who happened to chance upon a lone woman or by a degenerate who forced himself on a minor girl separated from her family members.

While the dimensions of the problem connected with the social rights of women or the revival of moral coaching of the young can be worked on, what cannot wait is the prevention of wild attacks on women and children by perverts who went undetected because they could otherwise pass off as a part of the acceptable socio-economic scenario. There is a lot that can be done to counter this hidden menace if the ‘dangerous mix’ of factors that lies behind it as mentioned earlier, is seriously addressed.

There is certainly a lack of fear of law in the sense that police oversight of the crime situation was not making any social impact and the great instrument of crime prevention — feed back from the public — did not exist for reasons that are not far to seek. In practical terms, the much needed detailing of a part of the police station strength for intense patrolling in dark hours in cities was just not there. In olden times the Superintendent of Police (SP) would make a surprise check on this by doing a night out himself or herself — say once a week. It is not clear if the DGPs were sorting out any resource issues faced by the district concerned in this regard.

A perception has to be created that there was police presence closer to the ground — in the lanes and mohallas — since availability of stringent law by itself may not inspire confidence. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2018 prescribes death penalty for rape of a girl below 12 and completion of the investigation of the case in two months but this has not yet produced results. Not much use is made of a provision like Sec 42 of the CrPC that empowered a policeman on duty to stop a suspicious looking person on the street and ask him to give his identity, address and a reason for his presence there. Further, consuming alcohol in public places is an offence punishable with heavy fine — but, in reality, this is a law that is hardly enforced in India. Patrolling after sunset should focus on checking vagrants, ones found loitering and those drinking in public. This will certainly create an environment that demands lawful behaviour on the street.

rape crimes
Rape is one of the most heinous crimes and is described to be animalistic. Lifetime Stock

There is no gainsaying the fact that the rise in the crass offence of rape in a society that is full of elements who barely had the benefit of normal grooming or a purposeful pursuit in life, is attributable substantially to the easy exposure that people -particularly the pervert minds-had today to nudity, obscenity and raw sex on the internet. While the hopes of moral corrections improving the society had their relevance, the enforcement machinery of the state must come into full swing to implement the available laws for establishing the desired level of deterrence. Sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act, for instance, are the most important tools to curtail circulation on the internet, of obscene and sexually explicit material respectively. Major internet platforms must be made to obey the law of the land. On nudity, apart from Sections 292 and 294 of IPC that punish obscene acts in public, the more specific Indecent Representation of Women Act 1986 prohibits obscene advertisements, publications, writings, paintings and figures. Look at the nudity in posters, magazines and the bikini clad mannequins at display all over — some prosecutions must start at least to show the intent of the state to enforce this law. Also, I&B Ministry seems to be failing to censor films and TV shows for nudity-related violation of the law.

The incidence of rape cases brings out the weakness of law and order situation in the states but it also reflects on the protraction-ridden ‘due process of law’ that our higher judicial authority on the appellate turf puts up with, even when a most heinous crime ends in conviction at the trial court of a Sessions Judge. These both destroy the deterrence of law that criminals in a well governed country must face. In India, the Centre has enough of locus standi to follow cases like those of Hyderabad and Unnao and take them to their logical conclusion. Among other things, getting a special court created specifically for an individual case that had the potential of destabilising the society, would help. Crime control may be the constitutional responsibility of the states but the frequency of assaults on women is affecting the reputation of India and calls for initiatives from the Centre as well.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly used the occasion of the DGPs Conference held recently at Pune to advise the police chiefs to give urgent attention to the matter of protection of women and expressed that there was need also for the police to improve its own public image. To start with, the Centre should insist on having police stations in populous cities manned by Deputy SPs and the strength of thanas augmented to put patrolling in dark hours as a work of priority. The gazetted officers handling police stations will also in that case be the circle officers of their jurisdiction reporting directly to the SP — which will save many posts of SDPOs. Police modernisation funds should be used for sharing the burden of this upgrade — this initiative of the Centre would set the pace of reform in the law and order management. (IANS)