Liberia: Enough is enough - International Women's Day 2004
5 March 2004
The three rebel attacks on Monrovia - known locally as "World Wars I, II and III" - followed 14 years of civil war which have left Liberia decimated. Despite Charles Taylor's flight from the country in August and the installation of a transitional government, the country remains unstable and the humanitarian situation precarious. It is feared that a high proportion of woman and children suffered brutal sexual abuse or attack during the course of the conflict, with women and girls being taken from their families and used as "sex slaves" by fighters from both sides. Extremely young children were also assaulted. One woman, a 27 year old living in a camp for displaced people, told an MSF worker her story: "The day before yesterday - June 21, 2003 - I went to the bush to look for wood. There were three government soldiers with guns. One of them saw me and he asked, 'Where are you going?' I said I was looking for wood. Then he told me, "You are assigned to me for the day." I was very afraid. He forced me to go far into the bush and he undressed me. Then he raped me. When I got dressed afterwards he took 50 Liberian dollars from me. I came back to the camp and yesterday I felt very sick. My stomach is very painful, but I don't have any money to go for treatment." She had been raped twice before, once in 1990 when she was a 14 year old girl, and again in 1994, when she was gang-raped by three different men. The MSF project is based in three camps north of Monrovia which shelter displaced people who fled their homes during the war. Liberian MSF staff, many of whom have been victims of the war themselves, work in the camps to spread the message that free medical care is available and give rape survivors the confidence to come for treatment. Since the programme started, more and more women and girls have been coming forward, and the project is now caring for about 300 patients. The programme provides treatment for sexually transmitted illnesses such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis and gives vaccinations against hepatitis B. Patients who come within three days of a sexual attack can be given a prophylaxis to prevent pregnancy. Those who come within three days can also be given "PEP" - a prophylaxis which reduces the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, many women only come forward for treatment long after the rape or attack took place, and so are too late to benefit from this. Patients who are suffering from psychological trauma following the attack - of which there are sadly many - are referred on to the International Rescue Committee or Save the Children for psycho-social care.