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Rethinking the Problem of Rape; a Sociological View

Doubtlessly, for those of you that study sociology will agree with the assertion that rape considered as a social problem was inherited from the fourteen years Liberian civil conflict or war. One of the defining elements that qualified the current rape as a social problem has to the negative impacts on large number of people that must be tackled by society collective efforts. 

As part of the Liberian society collective efforts to tackle rape as a social problem, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) helped drafted the new rape law with more rigidity in terms of penalties around 2004. Many people including AFELL saw the new law is an important victory for survivors of sexual violence and a warning to potential perpetrators. For example, one AFELL officials asserted"If you rape a woman, you will go to jail for ten years. You will not get off."

A father that attended the meeting in West Point asserted. "I'm a father, and I'm in favor of these tough laws that are in place from ten years to life imprisonment. I'm in complete support of that,law to protect my two daughters, ages six and 13”.

To add more weight to the new rape law, this was the President assertion during the 2005 inaugural address in January. "My administration shall empower Liberian women in all areas of our national life," "We will support and increase the writ of laws that restore their dignity and deal drastically with crimes that dehumanize them. We will enforce without fear or favor the law against rape recently passed."

These efforts by AFELL and the President to some extend have done and continue to do remarkable well as evidenced by the increase in the number of reported cases and prosecutions. Given the rigidity of the new rape law, one would rationalize or suppose drastic deterrence as the sole essence or purpose for which the law was amended.

Despite the enforcement of this new rape law, the current assaults on children between the ages of three months to 17 years seem to be a serious challenge to the law. According to research, in 2013, ten children died as a direct result of being raped. Many of us recently expressed serious dismay over the unfortunate incident involving a 12 year-old girl who died, after being allegedly raped by a 45 year-old man in Brewerville, one of the suburbs of Monrovia.

Arguably, the increase in the number of reported cases still suggests the same proliferation that prompted the collective actions that led to the amendment of the new rape law. This will be one of the concerns for people reading sociology that could possibly suggests or mean rethinking the problem in terms of remedies as addition to the amended rape law. The rethinking has to do with the argument that people are less likely to engage in behaviour they believe is wrong than in behaviour they know to be illegal but don’t think of it as morally wrong.This simply couldmean that the rapists understanding or knowledge about the new rape law is probably subjective. Take for example; men that married girls below the age eighteen years in the hinterland don’t see their conducts as morally wrong by virtue of the socialization from their parents and elders despite the prohibition of the new rape law that also applied to the hinterland. 

This is why Charles Darwin wrote in his book, The Descent of Man, “It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, while the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason.”

This assumption that could be studied does not necessarily in any way negate the new rape law. As evidenced by the prevalence of statutory rape, the assumption explains that law alone is not enough. What we need to start thinking about is how to design a strategy or action plan that will shift our focuses on changing people subjective understanding about rape as first degree felony. This is because, the only time we know of a rapist is when he is convicted. There are others in all of our communities, schools, markets, workplaces etc. with subjective understanding about rape. These are people yet to be identified. As such, our attentions must be drawn to them.

The collective voices of the our society calling or demanding for more rigid or tougher measures such as capital punishment or strong social stigma as suggested by the Minister of Gender and Social Protection may be helpful. However, what will be the impact when our communities, schools, market places, still harbor unknown people with subjective understanding of the rape law?

As for social stigma,a concern writer in India offered criticism as contribution toward the search for remedies in this way. “But stigma cuts many ways. When we criminalize an act, the stigma attaches both to the act and to the person doing it or even to persons associated with the act. The stronger the stigma, the more likely the person will be vulnerable to abuse and discrimination”

Should we attempt to experiment the suggestion of the Minister of Gender, let’s also think about others associated with the act that may unintentionally include survivors as expressed by the Indian writer.

Without a doubt, education as emphasized by the academic discipline sociology is the most powerful tool that disabuses the outlooks of people especially in the case of subjective understanding. This is why many societies often strategized awareness campaigns as one of the intrinsic interventions beside rigid legislations.

From keen observations, our awareness campaigns have predominantly focused on what humanitarian intervention described as concrete supports for survivors characterized by sporting activities, drama, lectures with scanty emphasis on the perpetrators. For example,The Youth Crime Watch of Liberia on 18 March 2006 had a one day Rape Awareness Campaign on the theme “Rape is a Crime, Report Rap in Wood Camp, Paynesville. In 2009, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Monrovia launched a campaign on 26 October with the message “Rape is a hospital and clinical business”, to bring rape out into the open and to educate Liberians about the free MSF-run medical and psychological services at Island Hospital in Tweh Farm, western Monrovia.

As part of the awareness campaigns, what explanations about disabusing the minds and attitudes of would be perpetrators does a poster, billboard, sticker, that says “good guys don’t rape”; “Are you raped”; “Rape is a crime” etc. convey? These kinds of awareness are encouraging but seem to be too weak.

What is thinkable to do as we continue the awareness campaigns is to also strategize the same vehement or vigorous efforts but in a more robust way to experiment a community base sensitizations aiming at disabusing the subjective knowledge that is presumed to be the challenge to the new rape law. Part of the strategies should take cognizance of community base clubs or peer adult education supported and monitored by the Ministry of Gender and relevant local and international partners. In schools, the Ministry of Education should be able to undertake comparative studies that will determine the possibility for inculcating moral lessons that will help to disabuse the minds of especially male children that hyper masculinity which could be associated with socialization cannot influence their subjective understanding of rape since it is a risk factor documented by research.

Providing children and young people with awareness of domestic violence and the necessary skills required building relationships based on the mutual respect and understanding will help them grow with objective understanding of rape not only repugnant to morality but also criminal.

Until we arrive at significant reductions, our awareness campaigns must not be seen as few weeks or one month emotional reaction when a child or minor died as a result of rape. It must be a community base sustaining efforts. This stems from the fact that education is a lifelong process.

As part of our collective efforts to combat this deadly and horrific crime, this article now ends with a passionate appeal to all relevant stakeholders and those concerns about searching for solutions to ponder and then try as much as possible to accentuate the merits of the argument advanced in this article as another eye opener that could stimulates other remedies for experimentation.

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