On Wednesday 29th July 2020, the Sierra Leone Police signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the country’s National Emergency Medical Services (NEMS) and Aberdeen Women Centre in a bid to address sexual abuse in the country. The signing, which took place at the office of the First Lady, is geared toward forming a synergy between the aforementioned institutions to further strengthen the police’s commitment to combat rape in the country.
First Lady Fatima Bio said the first time she felt that something had to be done about rape in Sierra Leone was when she visited the Aberdeen Women Centre and was touched by the story of a young girl at the centre. “It’s two years down the line, and we continue to advocate”, she said.
The First Lady said her “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign is now giving people the opportunity to report cases of sexual abuse, and that they make such complaints because there is somebody willing to listen to their cries. “Sexual abuse is a bad thing and we need to stop it. We have to change the narratives of rape by not condoning rapists in our communities and country at large”.
Ambrose Sovula, Inspector General of Police, said rape is now rampant to the point of killing the fabric of the society, and that President Bio sees it as a security, an emergency, and worrisome issue. He added that if sexual offenses are emergencies, the victims should then be immediately extricated from the crime scene to the nearest one stop centre, which should be done by an ambulance service. He cited that as reason the police was signing the MoU with the NEMS.
“Call the 112 emergency line, state your location, and we will pick you up”, he assured. The Inspector General furthered that the police was also signing the MoU with the Aberdeen Women Centre because the institution has assured them they would treat all rape victims for free; and in addition to that, they would go to court and give evidence as experts on any issue relating to victims in their custody, in a bid to win the fight against rape.
“If these components are not there to complement our efforts, the end product would be zero”, he pointed out. Francis Kitao, Head of Aberdeen Women Centre, said the MoU formalises what they have been providing victims of sexual abuse, adding formalisation of partnership brings accountability. Kitao said since the centre opened in 2008, they have attended to 385 victims of sexual abuse, and most of them are children and teenagers, disclosing that since the beginning of last year, they have attended to 25 victims of sexual abuse.
Riccardo Buson, Director of Operations at the National Emergency Medical Service, said NEMS has 81 ambulances across the country, and has been moving victims from one area to the other for medical attention. Director Buson said they transport patients for free, including victims of rape and sexual penetration; and last week, they moved a victim from the crime scene to the nearest hospital. He added that the MoU would help them create a link with the police 112 emergency line in a bid to track such cases.
By Abdulrahman Koroma