In addressing violence against women in Liberia, the short-term success and long-term sustainability of service providers’ efforts is inextricably linked to the implementation and enforcement of law and order, as it pertains to sexual violence crimes. The work of Global Partnership delegates providing services to sexual violence survivors (such as Rosana Schaack and Elizabeth Kekula, mentioned in my last post) is integral to that of the other Liberian delegates engaged in law enforcement and the court system.
Role of Law Enforcement in addressing SV
In my last post, I wrote about the services provided to sexual violence survivors by THINK. However, the process of rehabilitation generally begins with the police (in cases when sexual violence crimes are reported). Due to the sensitivity of the issue and vulnerability of the individuals, the work of Bennetta Holder Warner, Head of Training and Programming for the Liberia Female Law Enforcement Association (LFLE), is pivotal. Her background as an active police officer, focusing on the protection of women and children, brought her to LFLE where she currently develops and facilitates trainings to empower and educate female law enforcement officers. In her view, having “literate, empowered, networked, proud” female police officers is important because “women will not just sit back” when they are confronted with crimes against other women and girls.
Programs to strengthen female law enforcement are important for female officers on the ground, such as Global Partnership Delegate Vera Manly. Vera is a police officer by training, and is currently the Director of Women and Children Protection Section of the Liberian National Police. Having individuals like Vera trained specifically in dealing with women and children is important, because they are at the front lines of sensitivity, compassion and justice.
The progression of empowered and gender-based violence-educated women in the police force is exciting for a victim-centered approach to addressing sexual violence, but it is also a prime example of a growing opportunity for women’s empowerment and advancement in Liberia. As Bennetta (pictured, right) told me at her office at the Ministry of Justice, “[A]fter Madame Sirleaf became president of Liberia, and they were encouraging women to join the security force, I thought it was a need for me to experience another side of life.” The future for women law enforcement officers is bright, she says; no longer is it the reality of decades, or even years, past, when women police officers could not be expected to be not more than secretaries or assistants. Women who began in the police force are rising in the ranks of government in Liberia. In Bennetta’s words, “It is a different world… just ask our mothers.”
Law Enforcement Meets Service Provision
Bennetta cited the galvanizing effect of the October Africa Regional Working Session of the Global Partnership. In particular, seeing South Africa Thuthuleza Care Center’s (TCC) model for addressing sexual violence has encouraged both her and THINK’s Rosana Schaack to reevaluate addressing sexual violence crimes. In the TCC model, victims are taken to the specialized, confidential centers first, where their physical and psychological traumas can be treated and where specialized staff can help prepare victims for the legal side of healing – instead of having victims go straight from trauma to police questioning. In this way, forensic evidence can be gathered in a safe, secure environment and the physical and psychological healing process can begin.
Having trained female police officers working on women and children’s issues and an effective and appropriate timeline of care are of utmost importance. The Liberian delegation expressed that they would like to establish the TCC model in Liberia in 2012, and they have already met with several relevant Ministries to try and get efforts underway. If given appropriate permissions, a first TCC could be seamlessly integrated into the current THINK-GBV (Duport Road Clinic), which already exists next to a medical center.
Integrating the Court System and Legal Remedies
Another important facet of the healing process is the court system, as Global Partnership Delegate Felicia Coleman (pictured, below), the Chief Prosecutor of the Sexual Gender-Based Violence Unit at the Ministry of Justice, knows well. It is important that Felicia and others working in the legal system understand the work of service providers like THINK, since they are both components of a larger process.
When victims of sexual violence crimes arrive at the police and then are transported to (or retrieved by) a Safe House, the legal process is far from over. Rosana continues to advocate for and stay on top of the cases, and Elizabeth from the THINK-GBV clinic works with special prosecutors like Felicia and Deddeh to testify about the physical aspect of the trauma in court on behalf of these women and girls. While fruitful collaboration exists, challenges remain, such as a rural/urban divide – not only in reporting and prosecuting crimes, but also in availability of Safe Houses (currently, there are no Safe Houses in rural areas).
Nevertheless, in our interview with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (stay tuned for more on this in a future post!), she extolled the work of sexual violence-focused prosecutors, law enforcement and service providers in taking concrete action to address sexual violence crimes in a collaborative way – another sign that “hope has been restored to Liberia” as the country’s broader healing process continues.