In a sexist culture like Liberia’s, catcalling, groping, rape jokes and victim-blaming are normalized. Because our society normalizes these behaviors, rape, sexual harassment, and abuse have become more prevalent. On August 25, 2020, thousands took to the streets to protest the proliferation of rape and sodomy across Liberia. Prior to this protest, in 2019, the Sexual Gender-Based Violence Unit reported 900 rape cases, with children making up 90% of all the cases reported. I like to think that, for children to be targets of such violence, the communities in which they live must have normalized sexual harassment either by shaming women or by strongly upholding some version of “Respect” that prohibits women and children from speaking up for themselves.
Since time immemorial, Liberian society has used shame, “respect your elders”, and submission as tools to violate and abuse women and children. Often, Liberian women and girls are even blamed for being sexually abused and society places the blame on them for dressing a certain way, and being present at certain places where a woman or child "should never be" in the first place. For example, if you wore shorts, a crop top, or a gown, chances are, someone will sexually harass you. The frustrating reality for most Liberian women is that, no matter what they wear, men will harass them and blame them for it. Men will harass you, and society will shame you for it because somehow “you behaved or wore something that provoked him.” However, it rarely happens where a man’s body is policed because his because his penis print was visible, his ass protruded through his clothes, or sports gear revealed too much chest and nipples. When women and adolescent girls are faced with similar circumstances, suddenly a jury is formed and they are sentenced to public ridicule. The difference in experiences signals there is something fundamentally wrong and it leads me to conclude that the Liberian society is sexist and police’s women’s bodies. I must say that this reality upsets me gravely.
I still remember how an ex-friend of my father squeezed my nipples one early morning. At this time, my breasts were the size of quarters, just nipples and bones. This man touched me and I angrily took off my slippers and slapped him in the face. My parents were just as angry as I was and stood up for me, but our neighbors murmured that I must have done something that warranted the harassment and that I was disrespectful for hitting him. I keep asking, what could a 12 years old girl or any woman for that matter possibly do to deserve sexual violation? I have to say that my parents are a rare exception amongst Liberia parents and adults. The vast majority of Liberia parents, like my neighbors, would have blamed and punished their child for attracting the abuse. Liberian culture expects women to remain silent and “respectful” to their abusers. Yet, somehow everyone is shocked that rape is at an all-time high.
Because Liberia’s culture is sexist and normalizes catcalling, rape jokes, and groping, we must also expect a proliferation of rape, abuse, molestation, and violence against women and children. Liberian women deserve to feel safe and protected regardless of what they wear, who they are or where they are. In order to achieve this, we must dismantle the rape culture. We must denounce all forms of sexist jokes and practices. We must accept that men who can not control their sexual desires are unfit to live in our communities, and must seek medical help. We must stand firm and shame abusers publicly and bring them to justice regardless of who they are and how much they have. We must change this culture we have created and day by day facilitate through our actions.