Saturday, August 1, 2009

Rape of 8 Year Old in Phoenix: An Indictment

An eight year Liberian refugee living in Phoenix Arizona was raped by five neighbours in her apartment complex, the oldest of whom was only 14 years old. She was lured to a secluded area with a piece of chewing gum. All of the alleged perpetrators were also Liberian immigrants. reports as follows about the troubling case.

PHOENIX – A 14-year-old boy has been indicted in connection with the rape of an 8-year-old Liberian refugee at a Phoenix apartment complex, authorities said Saturday.

Police say four boys, also from Liberia, lured the girl to an empty storage shed July 16 with the promise of chewing gum. Investigators say the boys restrained her and took turns sexually assaulting her.

The incident ignited an international outcry after it was reported the girl's father said he was ashamed of her. A family pastor later said that was a misunderstanding.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced Saturday that a county grand jury indicted the 14-year-old on one count of kidnapping, one count of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor and four counts of sexual conduct with a minor.

The case initially attracted attention not only in Arizona but in Liberia as well when it was reported that the girl's father refused to take her back home after the attack. Although the father later said that the reports were a misunderstanding, she remains in foster care. VOA News reports reports on its conversation with Sergeant Andy Hill about the judicial and social aftermath of the brutal attack.

Sergeant Hill confirmed the 14-year-old was charged as an adult with two counts of sexual assault and kidnapping while the other boys – ages 9, 10 and 13 – were charged as juveniles with sexual assault.

“One of the suspects has been charged as an adult by the Maricopa County attorney’s office. And that was the result of them reviewing the information. So that is something that the prosecutors decide on,” Hill said.

He said his investigation found that the family had blamed and shunned the 8-year-old girl for bringing shame to the family.

“I don’t know what the traditions are and I would not try to speak to cultural traditions. But what I can speak to is what happened in this incident. And in this particular incident the family said they were ashamed of their child and they were not supportive of her. They blamed the little girl for what happened, and as a result of that Child Protective Services took the action that they did,” Hill said."

Even Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the Prime Minister of Liberia spoke up in defense of the child victim. Liberia's long civil war has involved many rape victims. In an attempt to lessen the stigma attached to being a rape victim, Johnson disclosed having been a victim of an attempted rape during Liberia's civil war.

Unfortunately, the world has many conflict areas where horrific violence has become commonplace. When a country becomes a war zone, children often become soldiers overnight. In places like the Congo, Sierra Leone and Uganda, impressionable children are forced into militias and terror squads. Refugees from war zones have needs that go far beyond that of those whose needs are merely economic. It is quite likely that the boys who are now facing trial had been conditioned by events in their country to accept rape as acceptable behavior. Making the perpetrators face the justice system is a part of the process of healing. Understanding the mindset of those who committed this crime must not mean excusing or minimising it.

It would be wise in the future to look closely at immigrants coming from war zones. In addition to issues that sometimes arise of war criminals attempting to come to America is the issue of facing the issue of war refugees who might need professional help in becoming children again. For some people, a job, an apartment and transportation might be almost all they need. Others may have special needs due to the trauma of war and displacement. To avoid problems in the future, working with immigrant support groups and trauma professionals to establish preemptive programs to identify and assist trauma victims could probably prevent some crimes such as the Phoenix rape from happening in the future.

Whatever is done in the future, no therapy, no social program can take the place of expressing our outrage by enforcing our laws. The message that "Big boy crime gets big boy time." should be translated into the language of every immigrant who passes over the Statue of Liberty. A mix of toughness and compassion is essential for America to remain the haven of peace that it has been for most of our history. Sphere: Related Content

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