UN urges media in Liberia to highlight lack of punishment for sexual violence

Deputy Special Representative Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu

16 February 2010 – The United Nations is urging media practitioners in Liberia to play a major role in creating public awareness about gender-based violence, one of the most frequently committed serious crimes in the country, as part of a wider UN push in West Africa to increase media spotlight on sexual violence.

“It is at the local level where they have a cardinal and direct bearing on influencing listeners to stop settling in their homes rape and other issues related to Sexual and Gender-based Violence,” said Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) for the Rule of Law, at a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the Association of Journalists against Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV), on 12 February in the capital city, Monrovia.

Under the theme of “Together We Will Report Gender-Based Violence”, Ms. Mensa-Bonsu commended the Association of Journalists for “taking a strong stand against the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence” and for taking the message of eradicating SGBV in Liberia on radio, television and even onto campuses.

“Your presence here today in the form of an organized structure is an indicator of the winds of change blowing over Liberia’s Fourth Estate,” she said.

She urged the Association to play a major role in creating public awareness on the need to report SGBV cases to the police. The counties of Sinoe and Grand Gedeh had reported the highest number of known rape incidents, for example, but only 12.5 per cent of cases were ever reported to the police, according to a report launched in December last year under the auspices of the UN Response to Rape Group.

Ms. Mensa-Bonsu noted that the tendency to “quietly settle rape cases out of court offers sanctuary to perpetrators and inhibits the willingness of victims to seek redress.” This in turn promotes “the continued commission of such offences, either by the same person, or by others who know how low the transaction costs of SGBV are.”

Ms. Mensa-Bonsu called particular attention to informing rural communities, noting that only 34 per cent of known cases are reported in rural areas as compared to 68 per cent in urban areas. Last week, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sierra Leone organized an event for media professionals from across that country to facilitate SGBV reporting and to help journalists take part in national efforts to prevent and respond to such attacks.

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