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“I believe in justice. That’s why I never compromise on rape”

Police officer in a courtroom in Sierra Leone | VSO VSO/Peter Caton

Inspector May in a courtroom in Kenema, Sierra Leone

One in three women worldwide has experienced violence or assault. In Sierra Leone, crimes of gender-based violence (GBV) go under-reported and it's common for cases to be informally settled with a pay-out to the survivor's family.

VSO is supporting women affected by violence in Sierra Leone to seek justice, together with our local partner Fambul Initiative Network for Equality Sierra Leone (FINE Salone). Police Inspector Eunice Ina May explains the traditional patriarchal attitudes that she says caused GBV to be normalised in the past.

“I am a woman. I believe in justice. As a police officer of 37 years, I will not compromise. 

"When a woman is raped, that is going to be part of her lifetime story. She may be traumatised. At any time, she may think of what’s happened to her. The way she behaves, her emotions and her pride are all affected.

"In Sierra Leone, gender-based violence used to be the ‘order of the day’."

Pushed into a corner

"It may have been a lack of knowledge that fuelled it, but some men took advantage of women. They would beat them. They wouldn’t allow women to lead. They pushed them into a corner.

"The rate of rapes were high. We used to receive sexual abuse cases every day.

"Groups like FINE Salone have been taking this on. They have run sensitisation activities and the violence rates are starting to come down."

Struggle for justice

"Getting justice for those women has challenges. Women want closure, but most don’t pursue the matter to court.

"They may come to the police station but they are vulnerable. [If they are poor], then they can be influenced by money. They could be paid one million by someone [to not come forward] and change their address.

"We try to tell them not to accept that. We go on the radio to tell them that the case should come to the Inspector General of the police. We try to arrest some people for perverting the course of justice.

Women wait outside Kenema courthouse, Sierra Leone | VSO VSO/Peter Caton

Women wait outside the courthouse in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Rural women and those with disabilities face additional mobility challenges in accessing justice. VSO has provided motorbikes to help transport GBV survivors to court hearings

"Other women are limited by their mobility. If an incident takes place in rural villages then we can’t go to them because we don’t have the vehicles.

"If we have to adjourn a case until a few days time, we can’t get a message to the survivor to tell them to come to court. If they don’t come to court then the case could be discharged. That’s so disheartening."

Helping survivors

"FINE Salone is helping us. They have bikes so they can transport people to the courts. They’ve come to us with information about sexual assaults on young girls. They assist the women. They bring witnesses to court.

"Women open up to them because they are not in uniform. The second you put on a uniform people won’t even tell you if the accused person is inside their home.  When FINE Salone come in their plain clothes and say ‘we are here to help you’, those people even go and find the accused for them.  

"When justice prevails, I think that there will be some sort of consolation for those women. The police are a force for good. That’s why I never compromise.”

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