Rape and sexual abuse is woven in the fabric of Liberian culture. I was pretty young when I left Liberia, but I do remember one or two uncles coming around saying how pretty I was, and “you my lay gehfren”. I used to cry when the one uncle would call me his little girlfriend. I must have been about 9 years old. I didn’t know why it made me cry, other than my spirit rejecting something that didn’t resonate.
You could say I was one of the lucky ones who got out early enough to not have experienced the progression of being someone’s “lay gehfren”.
This “rape thing” isn’t something we need to bring awareness to, this is very well known in our culture. We all looked in dreadful horror as Macintosh Johnson and Katie Meyler committed the most gruesome acts towards our girls in Liberia. We showed our appropriate outrage, we hashtag “protectourgirls”, there were even couple of marches in Liberia asking for more protection for our girls, and to hold “More Than Me" accountable for their crimes.
After watching the “Unprotected“ documentary, the human in us all couldn’t help but feel pain and sorrow for those young girls. Considering the history of men in power and white people in Africa, were we really shocked though?
How do you protect girls who don’t know they’re being violated?
The counter protest in Liberia (including some of the girls violated), to protect Katie Meyler and her organization, reveals the ugly, painful truth: culture wins over protecting our girls.
By the age of thirteen/ fourteen the girls in Liberia are beautiful and their breast perky. The older men like that, they call it “iron taytay”.
These girls usually come from very humble homes. Their beauty, coupled with their adolescent, becomes a commodity. Older rich ministers, government officials, or Lebanese business men are the targets for these “ripened” girls. The goal is to get her placed with an older rich man and insure the limitless supply of bags of rice her family now inherits, as long as she “keep dey papay happy”. They become the sole breadwinner for their family.
My friend Gbanja Carter starteda facebook group (End the silence) dedicated to bring awareness to rape and sexual abuse in Liberia. Many of us have shared our stories, and gotten support from that community. The horrific accounts of stories shared was one thing, it was the daunting reality that most of these girls don’t even know they are being violated, that shook me to the core. How could they? They come from a culture that doesn’t just look away, it’s dependent on these girls to get what they need for themselves and their families from these men.
Like me, there are many Liberian women in the diaspora whose eyes have opened to the wonders women are capable of when given opportunities to explore. We see the injustice, we want to help, but how? Some of us are still dealing with our own traumatic sexual encounters, whether in Liberia or abroad. We are, after all, still women. Toxic masculinity is universal, unfortunately.
How do we change an entire culture where parents, ministers, government officials, the leaders in our communities hands are all dirty? The shame is too big and not many people want to touch it.
All these years in America privileged me in book knowledge, self confidence, articulating my feelings and emotions, opportunities to nurture my potential and make my own money, while choosing partners (as an adult) based on preference and not survival. I recognize my privilege and hope this writing resonates in all the humility it is intended to.
My brain has become wired to see the depths of the toxicity. I want to scream at the top of my lungs about the injustice done to these young girls. I want to bring action in awareness to toxic masculinity and rape culture. Clearly, they see how wrong this is. These girls weren’t even given a chance to explore their lives.
I have 2 daughters. By the time my first daughter was 7, she’d already been in Hula/Tahitians dance classes, martial arts, and crafts summer camps, drum lessons, singing lessons, songwriting lessons and now at 9, we’ve settled on ballet. The point is to see what she takes to naturally so we know what to support her in, and how. She’s 9, just a couple of years shy of the age these young girls are when the sexualization of their bodies bares the burden of their survival.
We tiyah nah!
There’s no changing that culture, I’m convinced. Not because I’m a pessimist, Nah, I’m on social media. This post from a grown Liberian man has me up at 3 in the morning angry typing this.
“If you know you had sugar daddies when you was in junior high to high school don't say crap to me about R. Kelly.
Hiprocrisy is bad.
Most of your Liberian women i know grown up now was messing with grown men in Liberia.”
This is a man who has had the opportunity to leave Liberia, be educated and experience other cultures. He still thinks it’s the young girls' fault for running after “sugar daddies”.
No accountability on the part of the adult “sugar daddy” who should have more sense to turn down sexual advances from underage girls.
There were 111 comments on that post, apparently not enough to change his mind. He went on to write 6 more posts doubling down on the initial one.
Who has that kind of energy to entertain that level of ignorance? Besides, it just triggers my own trauma.
Fill the void. We can talk from now to judgement day, too many people hands are dirty and will spend money, tap resources to try and shut us up.
I think about who might “weesh” me if I help their daughter escaped a rapist. I even think about that young girl who will cursed me out for spoiling her chances with the “big shot”. This is not the battle I want to fight.
I want to inspire. I want to create an alternative. I don’t believe a mother would willingly give her child to a child molester if she didn’t think that was her only option for their basic human needs to be met.
We coming oh!
So many of us in the diaspora have, if not already moved back home, made plans to do so in the next few years. Creating options for our young girls and boys should be at the top of our priority list. Go in no opposition to what currentlyexists , create anew. Providing options and resources through education alone will open up universes in these children.
Donate and support Liberian organizations doing the work in Liberian but need our support to broaden their reach.
“It takes a village” is one I’ve been following for a while, and applaud the work they have done, and are doing.
“Wahjay STEM” http://www.wahjaystem.org/ is another Liberian organization, ran by Liberians. In just a couple of years, they were able to bring a group of students from Liberia to compete in the US on the same level as their peers from way more developed nations.
We must be mindful of judgments. You don’t know what lengths you’ll go to in such grave desperation.
We ain’t shutting up about it though. Doesn’t matter how accepted it is in our culture, we recognize it’s a violation, it’s wrong, and stifles the potential of some of our brightest minds.
What are some ideas of alternatives would you suggest?
What culture would you create/support as options for our most vulnerable citizens?
Cover art by www.mdbybartcooper.com