"Rape and sexual violence in Sierra Leone are now a national emergency.
Last week President Julius Maada Bio declared it so, and outlined ambitious plans — like free hospital care to rape victims, creating special police and court divisions devoted to sexual violence and a national phone hotline — to address the problem.
Sierra Leone's sexual violence statistics are harrowing. According to the country's police service, there were more than 8,500 reported case of sexual- and gender-based violence in 2018 — and a third of these involved a minor. But many activists, and the country's first lady, say the number of actual cases is likely much higher, as many instances go unreported.
In his announcement, the president noted that 'each month, hundreds of cases of rape and sexual assault are reported' with 'thousands more' going unreported. Some 70 percent of all survivors are under the age of 15, he said — a statistic that came from the Rainbo Center, a nonprofit that offers free health care and psychosocial services to sexual violence survivors.
Bio declared that, immediately, sex with a minor is 'punishable by life imprisonment.'
In the speech, he also directed all government hospitals to provide free health care to every rape victim. He tasked the police with creating a specific division 'to speedily handle all cases of rape and sexual penetration of minors,' also asking that all cases of rape and sexual violence be considered aggravated assault.
He asked the country's chief justice to consider creating a special division within the courts where specific judges would be designated to handle sexual violence cases — and, in the meantime, to speed up sexual violence cases stuck in court. He said a national emergency hotline will be set up to facilitate reporting of sexual violence."