DAKAR (TrustLaw) – An upsurge in rapes against groups of young women in Senegal may worsen if the government does not take steps to punish the perpetrators, a coalition of civil society groups in the West African country has warned.
The coalition voiced outrage following two incidents in the capital, Dakar, and its suburbs, after 20 girls were raped by a group of young men during riots against power outages in June, and another group of girls were raped after a traditional wrestling contest at the end of July.
“These abominable acts are a real menace to the safety and security of young women and it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens and put an end to this upsurge,” Oumy Cantome Sarr, head of gender and human rights at Dakar-based rights group RADDHO, told AlertNet.
Senegal’s legal system punishes people found guilty of rape with prison terms of between two and ten years, but rights groups say several alleged perpetrators have charges against them dropped on the grounds that there is not enough evidence against them.
"People rape minors and they can walk free on the benefit of doubt so people are no longer worried about the laws,” said Sarr, whose pan-African organisation is a member of the coalition.
Rights groups have urged Senegal to enforce existing laws and international conventions that protect women against all forms of violence and to provide free healthcare and psycho-social support to women who have been raped.
They have also called on people who witness such acts to report perpetrators to the security forces as a way of fighting growing impunity.
“These rapes happen in the open and people know the perpetrators, but they say nothing and allow them to roam freely in their neighbourhoods as if the rape of young women is just normal,” Sarr said.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)