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Opinions of Friday, 27 May 2016

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.

Stopping the sexual abuse and rape of underage girls

There is a maxim that we are only as strong as the weak among us. This maxim could not be truer in the Ghanaian context, presumably because we – the government, the law-abiding citizens, the morally upright, the clergy, the rich, the poor – look on as grown men – predators and pedophiles, really – harass, sexually abuse, and rape our young girls on a daily basis. Every underage girl growing up in Ghana today is at risk of being sexually assaulted before she is able to physically defend herself against these savages, not because the penal code is not stringent enough, but because the enforcement of these laws has remained weak and sporadic. Stopping the sexual abuse and rape of innocent girls – and occasionally boys – is a human rights issue because not doing so is tantamount to the abdication of the tenets of the social contract. Imagine, dear reader, that someone showed up at your door and demanded the keys to your house, unambiguously suggesting that you were powerless to ignore the “order.” This scenario epitomizes what it is like to have your body violated by perverts, and then see your body violated again because the arms of the law will not inflict justifiable punishment on the perpetrator. Not punishing sexual predators is a reflection of the pervasiveness of lawlessness in a society, and Ghana’s society is becoming increasingly lawless.

Power Imbalance

Although the abuse of our young girls is quite prevalent, indigent perpetrators are far more likely to be exposed by the press than their rich counterparts. Unquestionably, it is easier to expose and arrest the poor for crimes against children, as the rich are able to deploy their clout to full advantage, with enablers sometimes spread along the continuum of political power. Despite the strides Ghana has made in joining the ranks of civilized nations, the rich are still able to circumvent the law by paying their way to freedom, even if there is inexorable proof of their guilt. Indeed, there is nothing more dangerous in an enlightened society than for the rich to scoff – or attempt to scoff – at the law. Equal justice for all is important if criminals are to be deterred.

Shoddy Journalism

The prevalence of poor journalistic standards in contemporary Ghana means that readers’ sensibilities are constantly assaulted on pro-Ghana(ian) Internet platforms via vivid, explicit, no-holds-barred reportage of dastardly and inexcusable sexual offenses against children. In other words, it is one thing for a young girl to suffer severe mental and physical harm; it is another thing for a reckless, untrained “journalist” to share with the rest of the world gory details about the sexual assault. What happened to the concept of ethical decision making in journalistic endeavors?

Prevalence of Rape

It is understandable why the rape rate is higher in urban areas than it is in rural areas. As people cram into small spaces, quite typical of the burgeoning slums of Accra and other metropolitan areas, sexual predators gain access to more and more young girls, thus making it easier for these criminals to carry out their violent, heinous plans. It is also reasonable to expect that, for the most part, more younger men would engage in sexual predation than their much older counterparts, due to the inevitable decline in the latter’s libidinous impulses. Ultimately, however, rape would occur because there is the convergence of likely sexual predators, fairly easy targets, and the absence of capable guardians.

The preceding statement is a well-traveled criminological theory that appears to hold in almost all societies. Let me explain: as is often the case in child defilement cases in Accra and elsewhere, there is the predator (usually a neighbor or a fellow tenant in a “compound house”), a young victim who returns from school in the early afternoon to an empty compound (easy target), and the absence of a capable guardian (think: mother, father, older siblings, conscientious fellow tenants or neighbors). The convergence of all three factors turns another young girl into prey for the sadists. The reader probably now understands that the defilement of our young girls is generally preventable! Being a good parent goes beyond providing food, clothing, and shelter for your children. It also includes taking all necessary precautions to make sure that your young, physically maturing girls do not face unnecessary dangers within their surroundings. Ultimately, it is important that parents become aware that their young daughters could fall victim to sexual violence even in their own homes!

Sexual abuse may occur at the hands of a trusted, yet twisted, neighbor. Sometimes the violation occurs at the hands of a total stranger. Because you cannot truly vouch for your neighbor’s sexual propensities, it is important that your young girls be kept away from even the seemingly devout neighbor. Rape victims’ unwillingness to report the abuse also means that perpetrators are emboldened to continue their dastardly acts. Failure to report rape, especially in the Ghanaian context, stems from a number of factors: embarrassment, fear of being doubted and called a liar, fear of exposing the family to ridicule, anxiety over being labeled a strumpet, and a lack of understanding of voluntary consent, among others.

Other rape victims do not report the assault because they may have been drinking at the time, a situation that forces the victim to rationalize the act. Overall, empowering females to understand that, unless they have provided explicit permission to their sexual partners to touch their bodies, any sexual acts performed on them, including full genital contact, are a violation of their bodies and, hence, a criminal act punishable under the penal code. In the case of underage girls, however, there cannot be voluntary consent under the law, no matter how much the perpetrator would want to believe that sexual contact was mutual.

Different Types of Rapists

Rapists come in many forms. Some rape victims are specifically targeted by their attackers;
others are raped during the commission of a crime, such as a robbery or burglary, a common occurrence in Ghana today. Some rapists commit the crime once and never do it again; other rapists take pleasure in their sadistic acts and become repeat offenders until they are eventually caught. Even more sinister are those rapists who engage in gang rapes, and gloat in the aftermath of their aberrant behavior.

Different Forms of Rape

Rape can be classified into several categories, but the more common ones are date rape, marital rape (yes, you read that right!), and statutory rape. Although this article addresses primarily the rape of minors, it is important to briefly discuss all three types of rape noted in the article.

Date rapes are particularly heinous because they occur when a female willingly goes out on a date with a prospective suitor. Assuring themselves that they would “take things slowly and see what happens,” these females let their guard down, and become vulnerable in the wrong places. As a result, they are sometimes drugged or overpowered by the much stronger male suitor, leaving these females psychologically shattered for life, even if the rape gets reported and an arrest is effected. Many teenagers and young women, especially the club-hopping types who troll those sub-standard night clubs in Ghana’s metropolitan areas, are at increased risk of this type of violence.

Marital rape is a tough case to prove, but research has shown that it does occur in marriages in which abuse by the dominant partner is frequent. In this case, the goal is not normal sexual gratification, a by-product of a healthy relationship; instead, it is one party abusing the other in a display of perverted sexual power.

Statutory rape, which, in my opinion, is the most heinous of all rapes because of the defenselessness of the victim, occurs when a girl, considered too young to consent to sexual relations under the penal code, is exploited by an older man. Even if the contact is not coerced, the law states that the victim is too young to give voluntary consent. Most of the rape cases reported in the Ghanaian media fall into this category. There are aspects of statutory rape that are uniquely Ghanaian or African. For example, in the secondary school environment, boys sometimes coerced their female counterparts to engage in sexual relations, acts that would be considered statutory rape in Western countries. This is because, under the old educational system, a large percentage of very bright students finished Form Five at age 16 and Upper Six at
age 18. Thus, male students who had girlfriends and subsequently engaged in sexual activity committed statutory rape without even knowing it!

Statutory rape also occurs when poor girls younger than 18 engage in sex with so-called sugar daddies and politicians in return for financial assistance. There was a clear case of statutory rape when a government minister in John Kufuor’s administration slept with and impregnated his housekeeper, who, if I recall correctly, was under 18 at the time. It is also believed that some mothers actually encourage their underage daughters to engage in the horrendous practice of “man-poaching.” Finally, there is the pervasive belief among Ghanaians that unlawful sex (and the dangers associated with it, especially for young girls) is a taboo topic and should therefore not be discussed at home. Unfortunately, these physically maturing girls would learn about sex from the wrong persons, leading to terrible outcomes. Interestingly, as far as the penal code is concerned, a large percentage of Ghanaian men alive today may have committed statutory rape without even realizing it!

Signs of Sexual Abuse

While the goal of any good mother is to keep those “dirty old men” away from her young daughter, the former is not always successful in this effort. Thus, it is important that every member of the community is aware of the apparent signs of rape. Because knowledge is power, it is vital that the populace learn about these manifest behaviors, which should help to at once haul in the perpetrators and bring some form of healing to the victims.

Physical Discomfort: Undoubtedly, a 12-year-old girl who shows up at her front door with a wince or limp ought to be questioned, albeit lovingly, by her relatives. Of course, the pain could be the result of a sports injury, but the family ought to ask questions to make sure that sexual abuse is ruled out. A watchful mother may also observe an unusual discharge from her daughter, and if rape is established as the cause, the matter should immediately be reported to the authorities. In spite of the fact that society’s sanctioned conduit for sexual release remains confined, by and large, to demonstrable conjugality, some “dirty old men” prefer to engage in the detestable and the unlawful, which means that an ever vigilant society must be on the lookout for these deviants.

Withdrawal from Others: An early sign exhibited by a victim of abuse is the tendency to recoil into self. If a formerly gregarious and happy-go-lucky lass suddenly becomes a recluse, her parents or relatives ought to start asking questions. It is important to note that getting an abused female to “unload” sexual secrets might take more than a day’s work of gentle persuasion; as a result, angelic patience may be required to get to the bottom of the problem. Victim-blaming or victim-shaming may prove futile, so parents or guardians need tact to get the victim to open up about the trauma.

Anger and Aggression: Unexplained anger and aggression in a young girl, especially anger that is not sporadic, may be worth investigating. Anger in this case may be a by-product of shame: as the girl replays the scenario in her mind over and over again, she may blame herself for getting into such a situation, even if she has no reason to blame herself at all. As she envisages some type of revenge, her anger grows, and those around her may become the unfortunate target of the pain she is experiencing. Once again, tact is required to get to the bottom of her angst.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): STDs remain an increasingly worrisome aspect of casual sexual relations, but in a situation where the sex is coerced, the victim would not have had the ability to avoid unprotected sex. In this case, getting to the hospital and undergoing a battery of tests might become essential to preserving the victim’s health in the long run. Even more saddening are the cases in which the perpetrators carry the human immunodeficiency virus, or worse, because the victims would be unaware of the dangers until several weeks have passed.

Closing Thoughts

The Government of Ghana has enough stringent laws on the books to deter and/or punish rapists. What is lacking, sadly, is the willingness to enforce these laws. Until such time that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the nonentity, the literati and the proletariat are all subjected to the same laws, some would continue to skirt the long arms of rape laws, thereby diminishing the might of the penal code. I call on all stakeholders – citizens, community groups, prosecutors, judges, and conscientious people – to help eradicate the menace of rape in Ghanaian society. The certainty and severity of the laws seem assured; what is lacking is the celerity in enforcing those laws. What is also lacking is the will to punish the guilty, and until we rise up and demand change, sexual predators and perverts will continue to have a field day with our young girls. Are we pleased with this state of affairs?

© The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, Ph.D., is a Ghanaian American and a criminologist by profession. He recently concluded ground-breaking scholarly research, using primary data, on the relationship between the U.S. police and sub-Saharan African immigrants in the United States. He can be reached at GoodGovernanceinGhana@yahoo.com. He may be followed on Twitter: @DanielKPryce.

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