She wears an intricately woven blue dress, fresh black high-heels and ties a matching scarf around her head to keep long braids away from her face. She is cautious not muss her outfit and avoids the shallow puddles as she walks through the rain damp courtyard of Accra-Central’s police station. Her wardrobe is no accident as she had been rehearsing this day for months. She inspects the line-up of men against the wall, then stops. Her arm raises, hand trembles slightly and comes to rest on one of their shoulders.
“How do you know this man?” asks the police officer in charge.
“He is the one who attacked me,” she says. Her eyes now fixed on a face she had perhaps seen in dreams nearly every night since.
The young man refuses to meet her stare. He is smaller than the other suspects, barefoot and marked with with a diagonal scar across his nose. He is sixth in a row of ten. Each man chained by their wrist to the one next to them with the entire group flanked by officers holding clubs and well-worn AK-47s
“Do you know her?” The officer asks.
“Daabi,” replied Scar, choosing to answer in Twi a question he was asked in English.
“No? You don’t remember me? Liar, you came in the house where my children sleep and you raped me.” Her voice raises but doesn’t crack as her hand remains firm on his shoulder.
Scar mutters something inaudible and hangs his head toward the dirt between his toes.
An officer marks the accused man’s number down on a form affixed to a clipboard and hands it to her. She takes it in her right hand and keeps her left in place. After a few moments tension she lets go, signs her name and walks away.
The woman in blue was the first to identify him and there will be more. In total, seven people, three women and four men, accuse Scar of perpetrating acts of violence against them. The men he remembers and admits to robbery at gun point. When the women approach he stares at the ground and offers monosyllabic denials. When the procession ends, victims disappear into the crowd while Scar and the others are hustled back to their cell.
“We understand it’s not the best way to do this but we don’t have the means for more complicated options,” says police spokesperson K.W. Kuffour. “The victims are kept safe when they come to identify their attackers.” However, no system is perfect and police admit safety is never guaranteed.
In the west, there is a barrier. A one-way mirror separating the accuser and the accused. The suspects are marched into a dark room with bright lights shining in their eyes. They stand against a wall and wait. They wait for the someone they can’t see to identify them, or to be set free. The process is cold, anonymous and institutionalized. In Ghana, this is not the case. The ritual puts victim and alleged assailant face to face. Close enough to hear the other’s breath and remember the last time they met. This method presents critical concerns and unique opportunities. The Victims become vulnerable once outside secure police compounds, yet many describe the experience as empowering. “I knew he’d be there and I had to be there to,” says the woman in blue. “He knows my house, but I’m not afraid anymore.”
Scar was in custody on charges unrelated to the crimes he was identified for in the queue. Police caught him after he snatched a man’s cell phone in the Nima district of Accra. Nearly all of his line-mates were arrested on similar offenses. Every few months, district police stations advertise an upcoming public identification and empty the cells of petty offenders. The event attracts a large crowd of on-lookers, accomplices, victims and family members on both sides of the law. Suspects are chained together and organized in single file. One-by-one victims walk the line and search for the person they say violated them. The resultant verbal confrontations are explosive with armed officers present to maintain a hold on this demonstrative form of justice. The spectacle itself is known as an “identification parade” and it nearly always ends in a circus.