The post making the rounds on social media this week about a police officer who made a minor pregnant is quite disturbing. In the post, it was stated that the cop, 48, was arrested on suspicion that he made a 16-year-old girl pregnant. The girl is now eight months pregnant and the abuse is believed to have occurred around March-April 2021.
The details indicate that the girl had visited a relation in Blantyre to seek support with school fees. It appears the police officer caught wind of the girl’s predicament and offered to help her if “she was serious”. He then asked the girl to meet him at his office the next day to discuss the matter further, and it was there that he told the victim that the support he was ready to provide was on condition that he sleeps with her. The girl gave in, but she has not received the school fees to date, and neither has the man supported her with the pregnancy despite promising to do so.
It is this turn of events that compelled someone to report the case to YouthNet and Counselling (Yoneco), a youth rights non-governmental organisation in Zomba, who then opened a case against the officer at the police, leading to the suspect’s arrest.
I find this case concerning on so many levels. It is sad that no one in the girl’s family found it necessary to report the police officer for sexually abusing an underage girl right in his office. I am sure the girl must have confided in someone on her ordeal. It is also troubling that a police officer himself was a perpetrator of gender violence—breaking the very law he is supposed to enforce and violating the vulnerable girl he should protect.
This news is sadly, not so shocking. There have been many reports in the past of police officers committing sexual violence on the job, abusing their authority to prey on women and young girls in their custody. As most of their victims are vulnerable—whether in police cells or on the streets, in the case of sex workers—most cases have gone unreported while those that have do not really see a conclusive end. As a result, the bad apples in the police service continue to use the privileges and protections of their job to hurt women and girls with impunity.
You see, dear reader, unlike other forms of police brutality or misconduct that are often brought to the fore, police sexual brutality often occurs behind closed doors and inside locked police cells, away from the reach of cameras. It may not go viral, but that does not mean that it does not happen. The targets of police sexual brutality are mainly vulnerable women.
Yet, despite reports over the years of police sexual abuse on the job, and the obstacles that lawsuits for such cases face, there is little that is being done to monitor professionalism within the police service. By now, the police service should have taken these reports as a nudge to introspect, otherwise failure to investigate its own conduct on sexual violence may foster attitudes toward sexual assault victims that make justice unlikely.
As a country, we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand on this serious matter. The problem of police sexual assault has long been there, but it is only receiving attention in recent years as more people become aware of their rights through NGOs such as Yoneco and other gender-related civil society organisations that have been raising awareness among communities on the need to report such cases. Still, I believe that the known cases represent just the tip of the iceberg.
There are many obstacles to victims reporting their abusers, particularly when the abuser is a police officer. People are supposed to report sexual assaults to the police, which puts survivors of sexual abuse by police in an awkward position where they have to report the assault to the people that committed it.
In many instances, victims are met with judgmental questions about their clothing, their number of sexual partners, how much they had to drink, or why they were in a certain neighborhood when the assault occurred.
Worse still, reports of police sexual abuse are often obscured either by secretive disciplinary or by corruption–where perpetrators pay off victims to drop the cases and ensure complaints are kept under wraps.
As they say, better late than never. It is not too late for the police to look into ways of analysing the depth or extent of such forms of abuse within its own rank and file, and make the results public. It is only by doing so that they will be able to put in place the necessary measures to curb these abuses and to fully protect the country’s citizens.
Police have been releasing regular reports, usually annually, on road accidents and crime rates both at regional and national level. If they can do such national scale analysis on general crime levels, they surely can manage institutional level investigation on a specific crime. Police need to acknowledge the scale of the problem within its system for them to address the challenge appropriately.
Let us break the culture of silence on criminal activities within law-enforcement institutions. Concealing this particular form of police violence will only make the perpetrators safe while worsening the victims situation.
It is refreshing to see that this man is being taken to task for abusing this 16-year-old, and I hope Yoneco will ensure that this case will be brought to its logical conclusion. Girls deserve to live in an environment that enables them to thrive and fulfill their dreams, not consigned to a lifetime of poverty as a result of any form of violence, let alone by a police officer.