What every man from Sierra Leone can do to fight child rape
Four months ago I visited the Aberdeen Women’s Centre and wrote about the rape of 5 year old “L”. After sodomizing her, her rapist threw her down a flight of stairs and left her wheelchair bound. I declared then that rape was a public health emergency and that we were in a state of crisis.
Today the President of Sierra Leone has taken an official stand against gender based violence.. President Bio said rape is a scourge and declared a national emergency on GBV. I applaud the President. Political will makes everything easier. Political will means funding for institutions, and the provision of services for rape victims across all related government institutions. However, political will alone will not fix the problem. What we need is behavioral change. Men need to learn to think differently about girls, and to act differently towards girls.
The problem with rape in Sierra Leone is with the way boys and men are socialized to view girls. “A girl is for the taking”. Even before a girl reaches puberty there are men who will start to sexualize her. Even with the passing of the 2012 Sexual Offenses Act that criminalized sex with minors, and set the age of consent to 18, nothing much changed. The law is in the books but enforcement is something else. In Sierra Leone it is a free for all with regards to sex with minors. People see and they don’t speak. Men take girls for sex as they please.
Now that the government has declared a state of emergency we need to come up with actions that men can take to fight rape. Men need to take complete and total responsibility in fighting rape. It means fighting their old habits, their desires, and committing to change.
I have come up with 12 things that men in Sierra Leone can do in their hearts, in their minds, and by their deeds to join the fight against rape.
Take a personal pledge that you will not date, or attempt to seduce any girls under the age of 18
If and when you see a a girl of whose age you’re unsure, ask her age first before you ask her name. If she says she is under the age of 18, even if she is 17 and 8 months leave her alone.
Be an ally for girls in your family and in your community. This means that when your friends, and peers tell you about a girl they are seeing or you see them with an underage girl, shame that friend, tell them you do not approve and ask them to take the pledge that you have taken.
A girl dressed “sexy” is not an invitation to you. Lower your gaze and remind yourself that “sexy” is in the eyes of the beholder. A child is a child, don’t look at them with lust.
Stop calling girls “mi small wef”. Don’t think of children as your small or future wives. A child is just a child. Adults should not project adult behavior on children. If you have done this before in a joking way without meaning any harm, as a manner of showing affection please stop it. If you want to show affection let her be your “small daughter” that you want to protect and not your “small wife”.
When a girl visits your house or enters your car or agrees to go anywhere with you, that is not consent for sex. A girl under the age of 18 can not legally consent to sex with you. Pursuing and engaging in sexual relations with a minor is against the law. Know the law. Abide by the law.
Don’t touch a girl sexually. This means you don’t caress her shoulders, you don’t touch her breasts, you don’t touch her thighs, you don’t touch her buttocks, don’t put your mouth on her body (not her face, not her vagina, and not her buttocks), you don’t touch any girl child sexually period.
Don’t ask a girl to touch you sexually. Don’t ask her to touch your penis, don’t ask her to touch your anus, don’t ask her to kiss you anywhere on your body. Don’t have a girl touch you sexually period.
If you have any evidence of a person sexually touching or penetrating a girl, contact your local Family Support Unit. Every police station has one.
Create men against gender based violence groups at work, in your church, at your mosque, in your government office, in parliament, and in your schools where you can teach other men how to not violate girls. The reason being is that the men who rape children are just like you, “normal” just like you. “You noh go see am by how den look”. It is always those closest to children who rape them; fathers, step fathers, brothers, cousins, family friends, pastors, imams, teachers, neighbors, mother’s friend, father’s friend, okada driver, police officer, soldier, keke driver…basically everyone is capable. Men should teach men how not to rape.
If a father or a mother attempts to give you their child for sexual relations, that is not consent. Parents can not consent to sex with minors. Even if the mother says it is okay for you to sleep with her child in exchange for money, food, or favors this is still an illegal act. You must not have sex with a girl under any circumstance.
Be honest and truthful about how you might have failed girls in the past, even girls that may now be women. Think about all the girls you have violated girls/women and commit to do better starting from today. Every time you see a girl, no matter how beautiful, how shapely, how “ripe”, remember this: the Sexual Offenses Act is gong to change. The President of Sierra Leone has declared a a national emergency on rape and he has asked for death for child rape cases. To fight rape, be the man that doesn’t rape girls or go down in history as the first man to suffer the death penalty for sexually assaulting a child in Sierra Leone. If that is how you wish to be remembered so be it.