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Opinions of Saturday, 2 April 2011

Columnist: Aoaeh, Brian Laung

We Must Hold Ourselves To A Higher Standard

Tears ran down my cheeks as I sat in my office in far away New Jersey in the United States and watched a graphic video showing a young woman, an alleged thief, being attacked and sexually molested by a mob of men on the campus of the University of Ghana (Legon) in Accra.

I did not have the privilege of going to Legon, but I have always held it in very high regard, after all my father, his younger brother, my uncle and many of my favorite uncles and aunties all were educated in the venerable halls of Ghana's first university, and one of West Africa's finest.

For the first time, I am glad that I was not educated at Legon. I am not asserting that this crazed mob is representative of all the students that attend that august institution. However, I am sure that there were members of the Legon community that could have stepped in to prevent this atrocity from happening. That no one intervened directly is nearly as bad as participating directly in the crime if members of the Legon community were bystanders.

We should all be ashamed. Ashamed that such a dastardly act could happen on that campus. Ashamed that campus security saw it fit to apprehend the victim, but let the mob that was molesting her go free instead of immediately apprehending everyone that may have been a witness to, or participant in this unfortunate incident. Ashamed that this moment of mob madness may put a blemish on the good name of Legon, and of Ghana.

A heated debate broke out on FaceBook after the video was posted. Some are of the opinion that the video should not be shared widely. They argue that we must protect the victim's privacy and dignity. They argue that we should not place the blame on students of Legon, after all many non-students roam the streets of the university. They argue that the victim is to blame for what happened to her, after all they say, she stole cellphones and a laptop. The arguments for doing nothing, or acting with caution, or acting timidly are numerous. I understand them, and I sympathize with the emotions that lead to those sentiments.

Here is a question; what would you do if the victim were your sister, your wife, your friend? I know what I would do. I would demand justice. No ifs, no buts. Protect her dignity? How does doing nothing protect her dignity? Pray, tell me, how? Reports indicate that she's in custody. Not in hospital, mind you. In custody. Where are her attackers? No one knows. That is an outrage.

To those that would make the assertion that she somehow deserves what happened to her I have a few questions. She deserved to be sexually molested for allegedly stealing cellphones and a laptop? Were these allegations proven to be true? If they were, do the people that make this assertion mean to tell me that they equate what happened to the victim with the value of the cellphones and laptop that her attackers allege she stole?

The people that say we should not blame students of the University of Ghana are missing the point. In action is bad enough. In action when one is witness to a crime of this nature is at least as bad as, if not worse than the crime being committed. Students that witnessed this could have acted before security arrived. They could have helped security apprehend some members of the mob that perpetrated this heinous crime. Yes, we do not yet know if the main actors are students of Legon. But, we may assume that some students saw what was happening and did not act to prevent it. That is a shame, and it certainly is not what Ghana expects from its future leaders.

If we do nothing we are even more guilty than this crazed mob. They may claim that they acted irrationally, on the spur of the moment, out of momentary insanity. We have had ample time to reflect, and if we choose not to act forcefully, and with outrage, to bring justice to bear . . . We are even more culpable than the men that attacked the victim.

If she stole anything she deserves to answer for her crime. She does not deserve to be attacked by predators whose only intent is to violate her womanhood.

We have to be better than that. We have to hold one another to a much higher standard. Ghana deserves nothing less.