Sierra Leone takes welcome leap on rape: but next steps are crucial

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The president of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio has declared a national emergency on rape and sexual violence following a public outcry over the high number of rapes of young girls in the West African country.

According to the country’s police, there were over 8,500 reported cases of sexual and gender based violence in 2018. The number of incidents of sexual violence is likely much higher, as many cases go unreported. In 2012, the first year official police statistics were collected, 632 cases were reported.

The country’s gender justice laws - enacted in 2007 and 2009 - as well the Sexual Offences Act - ratified in 2012 - have certainly contributed to the higher number of reported cases. But, these increasing numbers show that much more needs to be done to prevent sexual violence and to respond to it better.

The Rainbo Initiative, an organisation offering free care to survivors, holds that young girls are disproportionally affected. President Bio has stated that about 70% of victims are below the age of 15. He made the statement after consulting grassroots women’s organisations, NGOs as well as government ministries, judges, lawyers and the police.

Political attention of this kind is vital to addressing rape and all forms of sexual violence. And, declaring the national emergency provides an opportunity for the speedy policy changes needed to combat rape and sexual violence.

The reason the government has taken action is due to the relentless efforts of women’s grassroots organisations and other NGOs that have put rape on the national agenda. The organisations help by providing free and confidential medical and psychosocial care to survivors, as well as campaigning to raise awareness. Some assist the victims during court cases.

Based on my research on the subject, it’s my view that the steps proposed by the president seem to reinvent the wheel, rather than build on strong existing foundations.

Success will depend on whether he’s willing to listen to – and learn from – the civil society organisations involved in the fight against rape and sexual assault. They know the problems inside out and what’s needed to engender real change. But their efforts to date have been hampered by a lack of funding and governmental support.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalThe conversation
Issue numberFebruary 21
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2019


  • Sierra Leone
  • Sexual Offences
  • sexual violence


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