Grace’s story: surviving sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia

Domestic abuseGenderInjusticeRelationshipsViolence against WomenWorking through the local church

By Desmond Lesjane and Adrienne Blomberg 

Grace, a 28-year-old woman from Nimba county in north-central Liberia, was living in a very abusive relationship with a 30-year-old male from Gbahn. They met when Grace was still in high school, and he asked her to leave school to help him on his farm. Throughout their relationship Grace’s boyfriend was very abusive; Grace was constantly beaten after which she would be forced to have sex. Whenever her boyfriend came back from some time away and didn’t find her at home, he accused her of having an affair and going off to see another boyfriend. The accusation would be followed by severe beatings and forced sex. However much she tried to assure him that this was not the case, he never believed her. 

A community play about gender based violence, performed in a church in Mwogo, Rwanda. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund
A community play about gender based violence, performed in a church in Mwogo, Rwanda. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Besides her boyfriend’s accusations, Grace’s failure to bear him a third child was another issue that created tension between the couple. 

As time continued and the beatings got worse, life became unbearable and Grace decided to visit her father to tell him what was going on and ask for his advice. Upon her return her boyfriend was furious that she had shared the ‘family issue’. He grabbed her, beat her severely, and forced her to have sex, after which he inserted objects into her that caused profuse bleeding. 

A neighbour heard what was going on and finally intervened, saving Grace’s life. The incident was reported and Grace was taken to hospital where she spent the next six weeks. Her boyfriend was arrested and put in a police cell. When Grace was able to come out of hospital and walk again, the case went to court after six months. At first the court tried to set Grace’s boyfriend free knowing that she would never be able to fight the case; she didn’t have the financial means nor did she have contacts with important people. However, by this time Grace knew a local church that had received training from EQUIP Liberia, a faith-based health and social welfare NGO, and had sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) focal people – church members trained in SGBV issues who ran a church-based response program. 

The church’s focal people, together with EQUIP staff, provided support for Grace: advocacy at court level, financial support for the court hearings and witnesses’ transport, as well as counselling and psycho-social support for Grace. At times Grace felt like giving up and letting the court ruling go by, but the church workers kept encouraging her to seek justice. Finally on September 17, 2015 the court reached a verdict and Grace’s boyfriend was sentenced to six years in prison. 

Grace rejoiced that justice had been served to her but her life has not become any easier. Because her boyfriend is in prison she has no means of earning any money. Her children did not start school this year as she can’t afford the school fees. Her father has come to live with her to support her, but she continues to suffer physically. Her back is very painful and she can only walk slowly. She can sit down but can’t get on a motorbike because of bumps on the road that would hurt her. She continues to bleed and has been told she needs a repair operation for which she has no money. 

Illustration: Bill Crooks/Mosiac Creative
Grace was reluctant to report abuse as she feared what would happen if her boyfriend was sentenced to jail. Bill Crooks/Mosiac Creative

When asked why she didn’t report the abuse before, she says she was afraid of what would happen if her boyfriend was sentenced to jail. Now that it has happened her fears have become reality. She has no money to support herself or her children, and her father pays the house rent. Her children are eight and ten years old and have always witnessed the abuse. They themselves were not abused physically but were affected emotionally. 

At the time of the interview Grace was under immense pressure to withdraw charges against her boyfriend so that he could be released from jail. The main reason was that they had received income from a farm in the village of Gbhan and Grace was not allowed access to it. Because of economic hardships, she was seriously considering withdrawing charges. 

This article was published in Exploring the linkages of gender, masculinities and faith, a qualitative research report on sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia, that has recently been published by Tearfund. 

Read more about what the Bible has to say on protecting those vulnerable to sexual violence