Death of young woman in Sierra Leone sparks protests

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The brutal death and gang rape of a 17-year-old girl has galvanized United Methodist women in the Sierra Leone Conference to add their voices to protests against violence to women.

On Aug. 20, United Methodists joined women’s groups in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, to protest the murder of Hannah Bockarie, a commercial sex worker whose body was found abandoned on Lumley Beach. Bockaire would have turned 18 on Aug. 28.

The crime and reports that photos of her corpse were circulated  has angered women’s rights groups, religious leaders and civil society groups.

“We are here this evening in solidarity with all women’s groups in the country to conduct a vigil in honour and memory of Hannah Bockarie who was brutally raped and eventually killed. We are saying to the world and to the government of Sierra Leone that we are no longer ready to accept violence of any form against women. We are saying ‘no’ to rape which we have noticed is on the increase in our country,” said Beatrice Fofanah, Sierra Leone Conference women’s coordinator, who led a group of United Methodist who joined the national rally.

In June, another girl was raped and murdered and the corpse abandoned in an unfinished building in western Freetown. Police have arrested and charged a suspect in that case and he is being tried.

“In the United Methodist Church, we have always exhibited zero tolerance to any form of violence against women,” Fofanah said. “And we will continue to do that because when one woman is hurt, all of us are hurt. Today. it is Hannah; who knows who will be the next victim? We are sending a message to the government and the international community to join us to end this terrible monster in our country.”

Women’s groups have been venting their rage on radio and television. A Twitter account, #WeAreAllHannah, was launched immediately and contributions have been pouring in support of the women through the account.

Solidarity march

Retired Sgt. Maj. Joseph Foray Bockarie, the deceased girl’s grandfather, lit the first candle to mark the beginning of the procession of hundreds of women dressed in black in a solidarity march. A few men also dressed in black joined the women.

The women sang the protest song, “We Shall Overcome,” and carried placards that read, “We Want Justice,” “We are all Hannah,” and “No more rape.”

Wreaths were laid at the exact spot where Bockaire’s corpse was found.

Government officials have pledged to find the person who committed the crime. Feremusu Conteh, deputy minister of youth affairs, said, “Women are tired of rape, which is not only sexual. It is happening in the homes, in the streets, in the offices. There is intimidation, molestation and discrimination of women everywhere.”

“We were all shocked when news of Hannah’s death broke out last week because we do not expect anybody to treat another person the way Hannah’s life is suspected to have been taken,” said Francis Munu, Sierra Leone Police Inspector General.

“We do not expect to see this demonstration of wickedness to the highest degree at a time when the state is making laws to address issues of gender-based violence.”

Post mortem results released at the weekend by the government pathologist found the young girl had a fractured skull and suffered brain haemorrhage. The pathologist concluded cause of death was from “manual strangulation.”

“Whatever Hannah was, she certainly did not deserve to be raped and murdered. It appears there has been some lapses in our security,” said Fofanah. “If the security forces are not ready, we women are now ready to take our security matters seriously. We don’t have physical weapons. But we have what it takes to say no to rape.”

Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

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