HRH The Countess of Wessex visits project helping child rape victims in Sierra Leone

Freedom From Fistula (FFF) was delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex to the Aberdeen Women’s Centre (AWC) in Sierra Leone yesterday when she learned about the work AWC is doing to help child rape victims from across the country. 

Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is under the spotlight in Sierra Leone with the President declaring a National Emergency last year, following the case of a 5-year-old rape victim who was being treated at the AWC.

Since then, the government has changed the law to introduce stricter sentencing for convicted rapists but a cultural shift still needs to take place to eradicate the crime.

In 2019, 11 children under the age of 12 were treated at the AWC for severe injuries caused by rape and FGM, including paralysis and incontinence.  Already in 2020, the AWC has helped three children, including a 5-year-old.  

During her visit, Her Royal Highness met with patients and staff to discuss the problem and learned about what is needed to help the Sierra Leonean government stop rapes happening to the women and girls of Sierra Leone.

Among the areas discussed, is the desire of Freedom From Fistula to expand our service to child rape victims and set up a dedicated One Stop Shop (OSS) Rape Crisis Centre at the Aberdeen Women’s Centre.  This would include a multi-sectoral approach with medical, police, counselling, social work and legal services all in one building; improved laboratory functions to include forensic capability and DNA matching; a dedicated child-friendly ward for victims of SGBV; a secure and anonymous data collection system to inform policy makers. This OSS would be the first in the country and would hopefully be used as a model for others to adopt and implement across the country.

FFF needs to raise £100,000 to establish the One Stop Shop, and another £200,000 annually to cover the running costs.

Speaking after the visit, Programmes Manager Alexandra Rigby said,

“Her Royal Highness was very interested to understand the reality of rape in Sierra Leone and learn about our plans to help more child victims of SGBV. 

“It is truly beyond comprehension what happens to these children and it is difficult for all of us to witness – but we are passionate about helping these little girls and doing whatever we can to help them heal from their injuries and find safety.

“The One Stop Shop is desperately needed in the country so I hope people will support us.”

The Aberdeen Women’s Centre (AWC) is a hospital providing a broad variety of free services to the women and children of Sierra Leone. This includes fistula care, maternity care, child healthcare, adolescent education and empowerment and family planning services, as well as support for child rape victims. AWC’s mission is “to provide high quality, holistic care and treatment free of charge to our patients and clients”.