Daily, we read articles about defilement and rape cases occurring throughout the country.
These are the lucky cases that might potentially be prosecuted and the victim, probably get justice.
What happens to the rest? Statistics show that 27 per cent of women in Ghana have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Studies also indicate that girls are most at risk of sexual violence in all its forms.
The victims are mostly between 10-18 years and one in every five girls experience their first sexual encounter through violence.
Why are the victims, who are often children, forgotten and their pain dismissed while their perpetrators continue to commit crimes with little more than a social slap on the wrist or a monetary penalty? How much Cedis does dignity cost? What is the financial value of a lifetime of physical and psychological pain? Why is sexual violence a burden which has to be carried in silence by children and women of Ghana while the Criminal Code and religions practiced here prescribe clear and severe penalties for this offence?
Majority of rape and defilement cases never get reported to the police. They get settled in the community by the family elders, traditional and religious leaders, assemblymen, etc., who are predominantly men. We all know that there are laws in Ghana to protect women and children from sexual violence, but why are many hesitant to navigate that course?
A case was recently reported to our hotline, where three sisters, almost a year ago, experienced the horror of gala rape repeatedly. According to this family, there have been a number of such instances in the community perpetrated by a group of young men. The grandmother sought justice for her granddaughters.
She tried to repeatedly file a report with the police and also met with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) for assistance. The police have been unresponsive and even the follow ups from CHRAJ and DSW have moved them to action. At this point, the grandmother gave up her fight for justice of any kind for her granddaughters.
Pursuing a case through legal routes requires commitment and determination. The victim is often subjected to uncomfortable questions by male policemen (specialised Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit do not exist on a community level). She is at times subjected to doctors judging her character and then medical examinations, which can be traumatising, time consuming and expensive.
This is premised on the fact of whether a victim can get to the hospital within the optimum period to collect medical evidence (within 72 hours after assault).
The police in a rural community might not want to act on a case and so one would have to travel to the district capital to get assistance, that is if the perpetrator has not gotten there first to tempt the officers to discourage the victim and her/his family. If the family is successful in filing a case and the perpetrator is arrested, then they are faced with intense pressure from their community to withdraw the case and settle it privately.
Although this is a criminal offense and their daughter, son, or sister has been sexually violated, in the majority of cases, the family succumbs to the pressure or the money on offer and withdraws the case from the police.
Settling a case within the community might keep the matter within the community preventing outside embarrassment and negative publicity. What about the victim? Doesn’t the community have an obligation to protect all the members of the community rather than shield men who have committed a crime? What serves as a deterrent to defilements, rapes and gala rapes which impact more than one in four women and girls in Ghana? How long do we sweep these social cankers under the carpet in pretense of the overall good of the community when in truth, such actions rather ensure that criminals of the worst kind get away with their crimes?
It is high time that we exposed sexual predators in our communities and seek justice for the violated, so this type of violence can be addressed and eradicated. Children and women have a right to safety and dignity as they walk to school, work in the fields and visit their neighbours.
There has to be a shift in attitude in combination with acknowledgement of the trauma to the victims and real consequences meted out to the perpetrators.
We have to look at our children and women and insist that sexual violence is not a normalised part of their everyday life and goes against tradition and social values. We have to stop looking at the victims and enquiring how they encouraged or incited such violence.
Do we do same with victims of theft or murder? More importantly, the police and medical personnel have to be sensitised to provide proper assistance to sexual violence victims.
Such assistance must be sensitive to the victims’ needs and respectful of their dignity.
If that trust is built, more victims will insist on prosecution and we will all live in a society where sexual violence is no longer tolerated.
By: Tatiana Kotlyarenko, Executive Director Enslavement Prevention Alliance - West Africa