The Republic of Liberia declared rape a national emergency after protesters demanded the government to deal with the increased number of rape cases during the pandemic. Several measures have been announced, and more are yet to come.
Spike in rape cases in Liberia during pandemic
In 2015, Liberia recorded 803 rape cases but the conviction rate in sexual violence cases was a mere 2%. Then, in 2017, there were 506 rape cases, 475 involving children. In 2019, the executive director of Action for Justice and Human Rights (AJHR) noted in June that cases increased over the month, with nearly 90% of victims being children.
With people staying home during the pandemic, perhaps with their abusers, the cases were likely to increase this year. the The director of the Women Empowerment Network in Liberia, Margaret Taylor, said that the NGO recorded around 80-100 cases in May, and 600 rape cases only between June and August.
Rape epidemic – a national emergency, says President of Liberia
Although Liberia is not the only country to see such a spike in rape cases, it is certainly the first to declare it a national emergency.
After rape cases spike, Liberians took to the streets for days, demanding that for justice. The protests began after a 19-year-old boy mutilated the genitals of a 3-year-old, reportedly so that he could rape her more easily. However, it obviously wasn’t the only case of sexual violence. Protesters thus demanded for the betterment in protection of women and children against all forms of sexual assault.
Now, President George Weah declared rape a national emergency, calling it an epidemic amidst the pandemic. The measures including setting up a national sex offender registry, and a national security task force focused on sexual and gender-based violence. Apart from that, there will a be a special prosecutor for only rape cases. Besides all of that, President Weah’s office released a statement saying that more measures will be detailed soon.
Not just Liberia
This year, the pandemic was only bound to increase the rate. In fact, the UN called it a ‘shadow pandemic’. Now that women and children are trying to stay safe from COVID-19 at home, they are most likely stuck at home with their abusers. Moreover, it is difficult to report rape when one cannot leave their home. Furthermore, it is difficult to reach a safer place as meeting anyone has the risk of spreading COVID-19.
In Pakistan, people began protesting similarly, demanding that the government take stringent measures to help women. In India, the cases are actually a lot higher than in Liberia. Data from 2018 shows that a rape is reported every 15 minutes. Furthermore, the survivors know the offenders in 94% of cases and every fourth victim is a minor. Rape cases continue to rise amidst the pandemic.
Liberia may be facing a rape epidemic, but so are several other countries. The question now is which countries’ governments take the necessary steps to battle it.
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