Tears roll down 16-year-old Tete’s full cheeks as she retells her painful ordeal. When she was 11, Tete and three of her sisters, were raped by three uncles over and over again.
Tete’s family was part of the Never Die cult that claimed every body in the family was free to have sex with anyone else, as a way of sharing love.
My ma left me to stay with her three brothers,” says Tete, not her real name. “My uncles used to come to me and three other girls’ room at night and tell us they came to share brotherly and sisterly love with us and used to do bad thing to us every night. They said they were going to kill us if we were going to talk.”
A neighbor, who she told her story to, took Tete to UNMIL. The Mission rescued the girls and shut down the cult in 2006 and their officials charged jailed for rape and incest. The girls were taken to a safe home in Paynesville run by the group, Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK).
Tete says she is afraid to go back to her mother, because her brother who raped her are now in jail, and the family is blaming her for the jailing of her uncles. “I don’t want to go back to my mother because her family is blaming her what I did to my uncles.”
THINK is one of only a handful of safe homes in the country to cater to rape and abuse children.
Many little children and teenage rape victims are forced to stay in abusive situations because there are not enough safe homes for them, according to staffs who work with rape victims.
“The lack of safe homes is a serious problem in the country,” says THINK Executive director, Rosana D.H. Schaack. “If the girls are forced to remain in the house where they are abused, they will likely run away and be in the street.”
Ms. Schaack says teenage girls who are forced to run away from home often have not choice but to turn to prostitution to make enough money to survive. That adds to Liberia’s high rate of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Rape has reached epidemic levels in post-war Liberia, according to international records. The act has left many victims suffering the trauma, without enough rehabilitation centers to counsel them.
Experts say most rape cases happening in Liberia are not reported but those cases reported in the first 6 months of last year at the two clinics, MSF and Du-port Road Clinics in Monrovia show most victims are under 18 years. A shocking 3 in 8 are children under 12 years.
According to the Ministry of Gender and Development the perpetrators of rape are shifting. Rapists are now less likely to be ex combatants and more likely to be family members, neighbors or people within the community.
That makes the need for safe houses more pressing, to allow victims to escape the setting where they are being abused.
Two safe houses in Monrovia are overflowing and cannot take any more girls says Ms. Schaack “We cannot take all of the cases that come to us.” For example, THINK safe home only had space for 10 girls in July even though more than 50 – 70 rape victims seek treatment at the rape clinic every month.”
She disclosed that there are safe houses in Lofa, Bong and Grand Bassa counties but in most rural parts of the country victims have no where to go to escape the homes where they are raped or sexually violated.
“It’s necessary that a safe home be in every county,” says Ms. Schaack.
Manakeh Shaw, a spokeswoman from the Ministry for Gender, said she was at a conference and did not have time to comment on whether the government planned to increase the number of safe houses in the Country.
The THINK home needs $5000 USD each month to run the safe home. UNICEF used to sponsor the program but now it has been turned over to the Ministry of Gender and Development, and according to Ms. Schaack, “the funds are not coming on time.” THINK is looking for philanthropic grants from overseas.
Ms. Sallimatu Kamara, Executive Director of women aids incorporated. Open Society initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) said her institution is another NGO who also runs a safe home, but can only take up to sixty children. ‘We take all sorts of cases which include rape cases, sexual violence, and Gender base violence, abandon children, adolescent girls among others.”
She disclosed that the youngest case they have is an abandon two weeks old child. “We keep the children until we can reunite them with their parents, but some of the victims who don’t have any parents to go to, stayed longer time. The longest we keep other children is five to six months.
For those girls who do make their way to safe homes, staff help victims learn skills that will allow them to support themselves without having to resort to prostitution.
Here at Think Tete is now learning to sew and bake, she is waiting for THINK nearby rehabilitation center to open for the next cycle, where she will study to complete her elementary schooling by the help of an accelerated learning program.
When victims like Tete graduate from THINK, they’re given tools kit or packages for them to start off with.
Tete says she is happy to that she is learning so she can do something for herself. She says she does not want anything to do with men again. She wants to concentrate on school and advises her friends not to go around boys either.
Tete says now the worst is behind her. She is looking forward to a better future providing for herself with her own sewing business.