Liberia’s SGBV epidemic: Recovering one victim at a time

July 27, 2022

DELTA-HRF with victim and family in Gbarnga, Bong County

UNDP Liberia

Mamoe, not his real name, was 11 years when he was first sodomized by Joe Gbartu, a.k.a. Papa Joe, 39, in 2019. He had gone to ride a bicycle at a garage in the Far-East Community in Gbarnga, Bong County, where Papa Joe worked.

The first time it happened, he was coerced then threatened with death if he told anyone. Thereafter, he was sodomized every week for a free bicycle ride, $200.00LD, or authority over other boys who also wanted to ride bikes. This went on until early 2022 when he got seriously sick and was forced to tell his mother and aunt what had been happening. His aunt immediately informed the police and Papa Joe was arrested.

The family also sought help from human rights defenders, Development Education Leadership Training in Action Human Rights Foundation (DELTA-HRF), who with support from UNDP took up the case, providing the family legal aid and transportation to court to ensure that they got justice.

The organization took Mamoe to hospital for medical check-up to aid investigation into the case. Papa Joe was charged and found guilty of sodomy at the Specialized SGBV Court E in Gbarnga on 17 June 2022. Joe Gbartu, a.k.a. Papa Joe was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Mamoe continues to receive treatment through DELTA-HRF until full recovery.

Twelve year-old Yah Gono, not her real name, was raped by her sister’s boyfriend, 31-year-old Ezekiel Gonyon in August 2021. Ezekiel had agreed to take Yah back home in Saclepea, Nimba County after her sister relocated back home due to economic hardship in Monrovia.

Yah had been left with a woman she simply refers to as “Aunty” and did not like it. The day her sister left she cried all night asking to be returned home to her family.

This was how Ezekiel was given charge of the child to escort and deliver her back home safely. The boyfriend-turned-rapist took the girl all the way to Nimba but detoured to Zontuo, raping her overnight on 31 August 2021 and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

The owner of the house where the crime occurred heard her muffled cries the following morning, and upon investigating, found her in the house writhing in pain. They quickly alerted a local CSO that helps survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), the Efficient Research and Development Institute (ERDI), who in turn contacted the Police, and took Yah to hospital.

Five-year-old Kou Dahn, not her real name, and her mother had gone to their rice farm as usual on 2 July 2021. At lunch time, her mother left her at the rice kitchen in the farm and went to fetch water to prepare lunch. (A rice kitchen doubles up as a granary, harvested rice being stored in the roof, and food being prepared underneath.)

In a split second, she was grabbed by 19-year-old Prince Mangbene, who dragged her to the bush and raped her. Her cries were heard by her father who was returning to the village. He caught Prince red-handed in the beastly act. He rescued his daughter, and with support from ERDI, took her to hospital.

ERDI is one of the CSOs in Liberia supported by the joint UN Rule of Law Programme to support survivors of SGBV and ensure that they get justice in the courts. The CSO provides legal support and transportation for victims and their parents to attend the court proceedings, as well as ensure victims get treatment and can settle back somewhere safe and continue schooling.

Yah’s rapist Ezekiel Gonyon was arrested in Saclepea, his case forwarded to Sanniquellie in Nimba County for prosecution at the specialized SGBV Criminal Court E, established with support from UNDP, with funding from Sweden and Ireland. He was found guilty of rape and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment during the October term of court in 2021.

Kou’s rapist Prince Mangbene was arrested by community members and taken to a police station in Ganta, Nimba County, then his case transferred for prosecution at the Sanniquellie Criminal Court E. He was found guilty of rape and sentenced to four years imprisonment during the October term of court in 2021.

Yah is at home with her mother, where she is being provided with tuition fees and other academic materials to ensure that she remains in school and completes her education.

Kou, who has still not fully recovered from the ordeal, lived in a safe home for one year, before being taken in by her aunt in Ganta, where she continues to receive medical care, and tuition fees.

These cases speak to the national epidemic of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in the country, the Liberian National Police saying 135 cases of rape had been reported between January and June 2022. UNDP and other partners are supporting a wide variety of initiatives aimed at curbing the menace.

UNDP is supporting the creation of courts dedicated to cases of SGBV countrywide to increase access to justice, lobbying for regulatory frameworks such as for legal aid, strengthening the capacity of grass root organizations such as DELTA-HRF and ERDI to effectively respond to such cases, and providing psycho-social support to victims and their families.

Kou and Yah