Last week, a detailed story was published on sexual abuse at a charity school operating in Liberia. The full story can be found here and the video documentary here
I have decided to use my blog to share my thoughts on the story…
I know how it feels to have the people you trust violate your trust, steal away your innocence, and sexually abuse you.
I know the guilt of shame and the pains of blame which ensued. I know the fears, the doubts, the deep scars and the mental anguish to be borne for a lifetime.
I know how the girls who were raped and sexually abused, exploited feel. Felt.
Even today, more than thirty years later, I live with the haunted memories and emotional scars of being sexually abused as a child.
As a way of healing, helping others heal as well as raising awareness to and preventing the crime and immorality of child sexual abuse and it’s associated cover up which is so prevalent in our society, in December of 2017, I publicly told the story of being sexually abused as a child.
Those who didn’t read the story at the time can find it here
As a way of both creating awareness and giving a tool to parents and caregivers to start conversations with children about inappropriate touching and abuse, thanks to my friend Lorpu Scott, my story was made into a film.
The story of the rape and sexual abuse of the children, and what appears to amount to efforts to cover them up is mind-numbing and outrageous. It is wrong. And it is shameful.
Of course the claim of a systematic cover up at More Than Me is being disputed. However, what has NOT been denied is the rape of the children – the abuse of their bodies and their trust. What is undeniable is the promise of help spurned into lifetime of hurt, sickness and deaths from HIV/AIDS.
Who do we hold responsible for these girls?
Who do we hold responsible for turning a blind eye or not taking better steps to protect those they promised a better life, and swore to protect?
I am not in a position to pass judgements on the intentions of Katie Meyler and More Than Me. But its hard not to imagine that more could have been done to help the survivors and to protect them. This is especially true if More Than Me, as promised, was dedicated to giving child survivors of sexual abuse and rape a chance at healing and a better life, in their care and protection.
How could it have seemed right and appropriate to take traumatized child-survivors of sexual abuse and rape to adult raunchy parties, and sleep-ins?
As a matter of full disclosure, I manage a local charity organization, Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP). We work primarily with children instilling in them a culture of reading.
It’s pretty tough managing a charitable organization, especially a local one with both funding and capacity challenges. But we do this because we care. We must care about the people for whom we are claiming to be charitable, in this case, and like mine, the children, their parents, their wellbeing, and of course, their futures.
It therefore struck me as seriously odd that More Than Me (Its face and Founder) came to be so absent at the trial where it was so obvious the survivors and the Liberian society needed them the most – needed them to demonstrate sufficiency of care for and understanding of the evil of child sexual abuse.
Where was ‘Abigail’ at the trial? How must the abused and raped girls have felt unguarded in the courts staring at one of their alleged abusers, alone? What could have been more important to More Than Me than to stand with the survivors in the trial, and on their behalf say, as truthfully as they could, what they knew, and when they came to know it?
More Than Me was not just a key witness but also a key member of the prosecution; how could they not have known this? How could they not have known that their absence would undermine the survivors when, as claimed, they were instrumental in bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities, and the alleged abuse and rape are said to have mostly happened on their premises?
How can you remotely lay just claims to helping survivors of child abuse and sexual exploitation when you choose to be silent and absent before the law where it is so much harder for alleged victims, especially children?
As to exploitation, maybe Johnson may have sexually exploited their bodies, but should we have been alerted earlier to possible exploitation of their conditions when the children were being advertised to the world as “prostitutes” for fundraising purposes? As parents, as members of society, and as government, where must we draw the line? How could we let this happen?
Of course we need help. Our country is desperate for support with many social problems especially inherited from our years of conflicts and decline.
However, our desperation for help must not permit us to be blinded to long term negative consequences a “help” may engender, whether the consequences are intended or unintended. How could we have permitted a Liberian child to be introduced to the world as a “prostitute”?
No doubt, what we have read and seen about this story is outrageous. But it is not enough to merely express how outrageous it is. We must remind ourselves, if we needed to be, that child abuse, rape and exploitation are real in our society.
We must care more for the victims. And we must do all we can, together, to rid ourselves of this menace.
At KEEP, we are introducing policies and measures, including against inappropriate touching, of children placed into our care. And we’re encouraging them to speak freely about any inappropriate behavior.
All of us, wherever we may be, we need to do more. We cannot change what happened to those girls but we can work together to ensure such fates never befall other children across our society. We have a moral duty to do so.