During the conflict between 1991 and 2002, it is estimated that a third of all women and girls in Sierra Leone were subjected to sexual violence.
Women and girls were deliberately and systematically targeted for sexual violence including:
* Sexual slavery
* Forced pregnancy
Six years later, little has been done to ensure that these survivors of sexual violence receive justice, acknowledgement of their suffering, or reparations.
The suffering continues
Sexual violence was not a single event but a violation that has continued to affect survivors' lives in many ways. Many women and girls continue to suffer psychological, physical, social and economic effects years later.
The shame and stigma associated with sexual violence means that many survivors never discuss their experience. This can bring about feelings of isolation, and also often prevents women from accessing necessary healthcare, when many may be suffering physical side-effects of repeated sexual violence, such as damage to reproductive organs, miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Many survivors felt too ashamed of their experiences to return to their own towns and villages, having to build new lives away from their friends of families. Others live in silence, unable to share their painful memories for fear of rejection by their families and of losing economic security.
Those known to be survivors of sexual violence tend to be confronted with blame and discrimination rather than support by those around them. Many face rejection by their family and community, and find difficulties to access to work and support themselves. Failure, by the Government of Sierra Leone, to recognize these crimes does nothing to combat the assumption of many that these women were somehow responsible for what happened and that violence against women is "normal".
The stigmatization and discrimination survivors face are huge obstacles to women and girls who are trying to rebuild their lives following traumatic experiences. Many women and girls want justice and reparations simply so that they can be economically independent, to provide for themselves and their children.
The road to justice
Survivors of sexual violence have the right to justice for the abuses they have suffered. The government of Sierra Leone must support these women in rebuilding their lives by:
* Publicly acknowledging the suffering of women and girls in Sierra Leone.
* Working with survivors to design and implement a reparations programme