BREWERVILLE, Montserrado – As Liberia returns to normalcy after the devastating effects of the Ebola outbreak, other areas of societal dysfunction have started to resurface. International groups such as the United Nations have expressed alarm at the resurgence of rapes after the Ebola outbreak.
Before Ebola, Liberia had already been a country with a high number of rapes. A study conducted by the World Health Organization indicated that between 61% and 77% of Liberian women have been victims of rape, with the numbers being proportionally higher during countries lengthy civil war.
In response to the continuing violence being perpetrated against women in Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf launched a Zero Tolerance campaign against sexual and gender-based violence. However, despite the harsh penalty for sexual assault cases tried in the country, criminals are often not reported or arrested.
In one Liberian community, rape is now a frequently recurring issue. Police reports indicate that Brewerville, a suburb of the capital, is the epicenter of rape in Montserrado. The community has experienced several rape cases with four reported and two deaths since the beginning of 2015.
Recently, a 44-year-old man raped a 13-year-old girl to death, and he presently sits behind bars. In April of this year, a 28-year-old woman was on her way home from choir practice when she was physically assaulted and raped. She is presently seeking medical attention at a local hospital while the perpetrator is still at large. In February, a 38-year-old man raped a 9-year-old girl. The perpetrator, who is at large, is a known member of the girl’s family.
Once again, residents of Brewerville have seen their community thrust into the spotlight as it was recently reported that a 13-year-old girl died due to injuries she sustained from a gang rape.
Musu, as she was affectionately called, was the only survivor of four children as a result of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. Musu’s biological parents lived in Gbarnga. The family was severely affected by the Ebola outbreak as the virus claimed three of their children.
Musu’s mother sent her to stay with her aunt for better educational opportunities, a common practice in Liberia. Here in Brewerville, she was in the 2nd grade at the Sarah Barclay Public School in the Hotel Africa community (since many students did not receive formal education during the 14-year Liberian civil war, it is common for students to be several grade levels behind their age).
According to a close family friend, Leroy Suku, the teen and her aunt usually sold pepper kala, a fried dough hole commonly sold by street vendors, and fried chicken at night in front of a video club as a means of supporting the family. Suku lived in the same home as Musu and her aunt.
As the night went on, Musu took a break from selling to go purchase water to drink. Suku explained, “She told her aunt that she wanted to drink so she [went] and bought the water right next door. On her way back was when the guys jumped on her.”
Suku said Musu went missing for several hours starting at 9 p.m. “Her aunt grew concerned and started asking all in the community about her niece but there was no answer, unaware Musu was being subdued somewhere,” he said.
When the family reported the girl missing at the local police station in Hotel Africa Road community, Suku said the police instructed the aunt to go home and wait until the next day to continue the search.
It was 2 a.m. when there was a knock on the door. “When we came outside to see who was knocking on the door, it was Musu groaning in pain with blood pouring down [from her genitals],” Suku said. The family asked her what happened, but she could not speak. “She just showed us signs with her fingers and hands that five men grabbed, lifted her, choked her neck and raped her,” Suku said.
The family once again informed the police of the case and asked them to call the ambulance for quick help to save the girl’s life. “We did all we could to save Musu’s life, my dear, but nothing; even the police here told us to wait until daybreak because they don’t have any means to get an ambulance.”
Liberia has a 911 system for non-medical emergencies, but it often does not work. When The Bush Chicken tried calling the emergency number, there was no ring and the call was disconnected.
During the Ebola outbreak, there was an emergency number, which was understood to be just for picking up Ebola patients. The number still works if called. The Bush Chicken called the 4455 number to see if they would help with non-Ebola emergency health issues. For situations in Monrovia, the call center agreed to send an ambulance for a non-Ebola emergency. Unfortunately, that does not extend all across the country, and most Liberians are not aware that they can use the service for other instances.
Unable to get the teen medical attention, Suku said the teen bled a great deal. When day broke, the family took the girl to Redemption Hospital. “We took her to Redemption at 5 a.m. because at home she was very weak and still bleeding,” Suku said. “We were just giving her [Oral Rehydration Solution] for strength but each time we gave it to her, she vomited. Musu didn’t say a word before she died. All we saw from her was signs of how she was raped.”
Suku said Musu died two hours after she was taken to the hospital on June 15, the eve of the International Day of the African Child. “The little girl died sorrowfully and in pain, but we need justice for her that’s all,” he said.
According to the medical report from the Redemption hospital, the teen experienced multiple vaginal penetrations by several men in addition to being strangled. She had bruises all over her body. The report indicated that if Musu had survived, she would have likely not been able to bear children in the future due to the internal damage to her body. Musu’s body has not been buried yet as the Government of Liberia is still investigating.
Since the incident on June 14, no perpetrator has been arrested or brought forward by the police. Police spokesman Sam Collins confirmed the rape case in the Brewerville. Collins said the police have launched a massive search for the perpetrators and threatened drastic measures against community members who tried to harbor the criminals.
A study conducted by the non-profit RAND Corporation revealed that the Liberian National Police is understandably disorganized and lack proper oversight as a result of effects of the country’s civil war. As a result, the police are not only often ineffective in investigating sexual assaults but are also sometimes complicit. The Bush Chicken reported earlier this month that two police officers were arrested and under investigation for complicity in a rape.
Musu’s death has alarmed the community. “We are afraid, from all indications, that our community is no longer safe for our kids and even us the older ones,” Henrietta Bestman said. A resident of Hotel Africa Road community, Bestman said she feels hurt by the act. “I have girl children. Today it is Musu, but tomorrow who knows, something needs to be done in order to save us,” she said.
She says rapists are continuing to operate with impunity. ”I recommend to the government to kill any rapists because this will make people scared to harm our children,” Bestman said.
Representative William Dakel, who represents the district where Musu lived, said he was worried about the rapes. He said, “My people are going through too many traumas with similar cases happening often. This needs to stop now.”
Although he pledged his commitment to ensuring justice is served in Musu’s case, Dakel cautioned citizens of his district against sending their kids out at night on errands.
Amelia Bangura contributed to this piece. Featured photo by Jefferson Krua