Tag Archives: sexual assault

Justice be done in public: Ghanaian identification parades

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.

In Malawi, child rape is a tough case

In Malawi, reports indicate that as many as one in four children have been sexually abused, with orphans and at-risk youth being especially vulnerable. Photo by Travis Lupick.

Dr. Neil Kennedy recently told me he sees an average of 20-25 cases of child sexual abuse a month referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre, Malawi.

I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.

“Yes, that many,” he confirmed. “I was working a shift last month when I saw three in one day.”

Our conversation was part of a discussion on sexual violence in Malawi. Kennedy, head of pediatrics and child health at the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine, proceeded to dispel any doubts about the scale of this problem.

He called attention to a report titled “Suffering at School: Results of the Malawi Gender-Based Violence in Schools Survey,” which was published in October 2005 and based on interviews with more than 4,400 youth from various segments of society.

“Almost one in four children have been forced to have sex against their will,” the document states. “Repeat victimization is common.”

Indicating that little has changed in the six years since that report was published, Malawi’s Daily Times newspaper recently reported that it carried 16 stories covering 22 cases of child sexual abuse for the months of August and September 2011 alone.

Tackling child rape in Malawi is “messy,” Kennedy sighed.

He recounted an example.

A mother brought her seven-year-old daughter into QECH, the largest health centre in Blantyre, with a case of tuberculosis. TB is a common indication of HIV, and so doctors suggested the girl be tested; the result came back positive, but the girl’s mother swore that she was negative – and an HIV-test of her own confirmed that.

Other possible causes of transmission were subsequently ruled out, and doctors came to suspect that the young girl had been raped. The mother refused to believe it was possible, but agreed to further examination.

Indeed, doctors found every physical indication that the girl had been raped, both repeatedly and over an extended period of time.

There was now a dilemma.

The doctors involved in the case knew the girl’s father, knew that he was HIV-positive, and were certain that he was the man who had assaulted the girl. But doctor-patient confidentiality forbade them from telling anybody about the man’s HIV status, without which, there was significantly less evidence on which to make a case.

Furthermore, the girl refused to say a word about anything that had happened to her. And for the same reasons that doctors couldn’t reveal anything about the father’s health, they were also forbidden from sharing what they had discovered in their examination of the girl.

So what could be done? Ask that question and the matter grows even more complicated.

Speaking alongside Kennedy was Esmie Tembenu, child justice magistrate for the Government of Malawi. She called attention to a massive gap between the number of incidence of sexual assault recorded at hospitals and the significantly-fewer cases filed with police.

“Most victims of sexual abuse in Malawi do not report that they have been abused,” Tembenu said. “The information I have in my office is that as much as 90 percent of cases of sexual abuse are not being reported to police.”

She counted off an extensive list of contributing factors as to why this is the case. Among others, family members are reluctant to report incest, rapes that occur in extramarital affairs are often concealed, and in cases of child rape, it’s not uncommon for parents to take a bribe from an assailant in exchange for a promise not to press charges.

There are also serious economic considerations a Malawian woman might take into account before reporting her husband for a crime that will put him in jail for years, Tembenu continued.

In a wealthy nation like Canada, it’s easy to say that there is no reason in the world for a mother to conceal the abuse of a child; but the realities of life in an impoverished country such as Malawi are rarely so simple.

Let’s say that the household in question falls within the World Bank’s definition for extreme poverty (surviving on less than the equivalent of US$1.50 a day) and is comprised of a mother, her husband –the sole breadwinner for the family– the child that’s being raped, her two brothers and a sister, and their two cousins –orphaned from their biological parents because of HIV or AIDS.

If this woman were to have her husband sent to jail, she would find herself left with seven mouths to feed, abysmal prospects for employment, and virtually none of the social security or welfare programs common in the West. With the crime reported, abuse of the child would likely stop, but without her husband’s income, what would happen to the rest of this woman’s family?

Like Kennedy said, dealing with cases of child rape in Malawi is messy.

The “solution” to situations like the hypothetical one outlined above, he said, is usually to send the victimized child to live in another village or to one of the country’s crowded orphanages. But that, of course, goes nowhere near the root of the problem, and leaves a child rapist free to assault other young girls.

This state of affairs may seem bleak. But Kennedy said that he actually sees reasons for optimism.

When he first started seeing child victims of sexual assault at QECH two years ago, there was no follow-up capacity whatsoever. Now, thanks to a push by UNICEF and the UK’s Department for International Development, as many as 40 percent of sexually-abused children are enrolled in counseling programs and receiving regular psychological care.

There are also encouraging signs that Malawi, as a society, is dropping taboos around discussions of sex and sexual assault, Kennedy noted.

“Malawi is going through a huge culture shift about this,” he explained. “It is getting easier to talk about sex […] and we know that perpetrators are growing more frightened because of this.”

The seven-year-old girl discussed at the beginning of this article still lives with the man who raped her. Authorities know who he is, but lack the evidence required for a prosecution. However, it was “made clear” to the man that if the sexual abuse didn’t stop, police would catch him. Now authorities can only hope that he has heeded their warning.

And the girl is now receiving regular counseling at QECH, Kennedy reported – though she’s yet to say a single word about anything that’s happened to her.

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