When the 14-year civil war in Liberia came to an end in 2003, it seemed that the country could begin the road to recovery, slowly but surely. Despite the economic improvements made, women and girls have continued to be victims of rape at alarming rates.
During the war, children and adults used rape against women to instill fear, cause further destruction and assert superiority. When the war ended, the rape in Liberia continued, pointing to the deep-seated traumatic effects the war left in its wake.
Nicola Jones, a researcher at Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a London based think-tank, explains, “After the war, men are often aggressive, ‘hyper-masculine’ and struggle to adapt to peacetime.” Essentially, after over a decade of being stripped of the basic necessities for survival, men are often overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness, and raping women and girls is a means of reasserting their masculinity.
The statistics reflect this observation, with 1,002 rape cases reported in 2013 concerning children between the ages of 3 and 14. However, there were only 49 rape convictions, pointing to yet another problem.
Given the stigma around rape worldwide, much of the rape in Liberia goes unpunished when women don’t come forward or the justice system neglects to arrest the accused rapists. The U.S. takes some of the blame for this stigma, often making rape a societal taboo, which as a result, makes women reluctant to come forward and report what happened to them.
Gbowee, an international speaker, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, commented on America’s lack of action, explaining that “when American women are silent on issues of women’s rights, that attitude permeates the developing world.” When the U.S. sets an example of punishing rapists and accepting women who have been attacked, developing countries may follow suit and see a decline in cases in the near future.
There has been improvement, however, in the number of women and girls who go to the police with reports of rape. Annie Jones Demen, Liberia’s Gender Affairs minister, notes, “We now have more reports on sexual and gender-based violence. Survivors of sexual violence now feel safe to come out to say they were raped.” Since 2006, reports of rape in Liberia have become more common, and as acceptance has become more widespread, more women have seen justice served on their behalf.
The impoverished state of Liberia contributes to the lack of punishment for rapists, with a dearth of facilities to treat those who have been raped. Monrovia, in western Liberia, has the only hospital dedicated to treating rape victims, often receiving between 10 and 15 rape victims every month.
The end of a war brings hope for a brighter future, but in the case of Liberia, the rape problem has remained stronger than ever. Thousands of women every year are raped and left to recover on their own, contributing to a culture that displays complacency in response to the high numbers of rape. The U.S. can lend a hand on the road to justice, as can the media, and aid given to develop Liberia at a faster pace could put rape culture behind them.
— Magdalen Wagner