A truck rattles through the large gates, carrying prisoners linked to sexual assault cases. Here ‘Saturday Courts’ hear rape and assault cases in a programme partially funded by Ireland through the UN.
Almost 2,000 cases were recorded in the country’s three rape crisis centres during 2012 alone, so the courts serve a vital function in reassuring girls and women that justice can be done.
UN legal officer Rakel Larsen takes me through the quiet corridors. Funding covers weekend salaries but doesn’t stretch to electricity for the silent fans or even lights.
She says the courts, which were set up in 2011, are slowly changing attitudes:
‘It can be a challenge. The Saturday Courts provides a protective, victim-friendly environment, but it can be busy with family members. I think people didn’t come forward before. Now the women’s groups make a lot of noise. And there is a lot of funding, a lot of support.”
She adds: “We don’t have specific case-processing time statistics but we are working on data. You hear of cases waiting seven years to be heard, but gender-based-violence cases don’t wait. Rapes are also heard during the week”.
Staff, including midwives, counsellors and security guards, at the Freetown Rainbo Centre, in the Princeses Christian Maternity Hospital, which deals with rape crises. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Rainbo Centre sign which hangs in all three centres in Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Six members of a men's group in Kenema, Sierra Leone run by IRC. They are working to change men's attitudes and stop violence before it starts. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Midwife Annie Mafinda, with toys in the counselling room at the Freetown Rainbo Centre. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Safiatu Jalloh, counselor with the Rainbo Centre in Kenema. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Many Sowa, midwife at the Kenema Rainbo Centre, Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Rakel Larson, United Nations Displaced Persons representative, working with Irish Aid on the Saturday Courts project. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Balogun Dixon, Chief Officer Pademba Road Prison, at the Freetown Courthouse. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah, Consultant Master and Registrar of the Sierra Leone Judiciary. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
The Family Support Unit in the Kenema Police Force, pictured outside their station. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Poster on the walls of a courtroom in the Freetown Courthouse building offering socio-legal support for victims of gender-based violence. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Joseph Rahall, Executive Director of eco-NGO 'Green Scenery', at their offices in Freetown, Sierra Leone.