Sierra Leone: UN agency hopes to increase media spotlight on sexual violence

12 February 2010 – With not a single conviction resulting from the thousands of sexual violence cases reported last year in Sierra Leone, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is hoping the media can be a power ally in spotlighting how these offences go unpunished in the West African nation.

Currently, journalists treat sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a social or cultural issue, rather than a criminal and human rights matter, participants heard at a recent two-day training and workshop that UNDP held earlier this week in the capital, Freetown.

“By the end of her lifespan, nearly all Sierra Leonean women will suffer some form of sexual or gendBy the end of her lifespan, nearly all Sierra Leonean women will suffer some form of sexual or gender-based violenceer-based violence,” said Samuel Harbor, UNDP Deputy Country Director.

Inequalities between men and women are among the worst in the world, with the country ranking 180th out of 182 countries for overall human development last year, he pointed out.

Although SGBV is considered a punishable offence in Sierra Leone, latest figures show that out of nearly 1,000 sexual abuse and over 1,500 domestic violence cases reported in 2009, there were no convictions.

More than 40 media professionals from across the country took part in the UNDP event, which sought to facilitate SGBV reporting and help journalists take part in national efforts to prevent and respond to the scourge.

“The media can play a pivotal role to help reduce impunity for SGBV offences by reporting SBGV cases with the consistency and professionalism that provides deterrence to would-be perpetrators while re-enforcing confidence in the justice system to victims and the society at large,” Mr. Harbor said.

UNDP noted that this form of violence thwarts Sierra Leone’s economic and social development.

Addressing the workshop, Soccoh Kabia, Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, underscored that SBGV “has a profound impact on the dignity, psychological impact and a violation of a person’s human rights.”

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