Last week, in spite of numerous challenges, we saw the significant arrest of a suspect in a case of sexual violence against a child in Uganda. This case illustrates the many points between reporting a sexual assault and receiving justice in court during which cases are frequently dropped. It also illustrates that those obstacles can be overcome with further investments and training that provide the public justice system and victims with the support and resources they need to continue prosecutions.
In May 2020, IJM received a case referral from Uganda’s Child Helpline. It was a case of sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl, Lovisa*, who had been raped by a friend of her father and became pregnant from the attack.
When IJM reviewed the case, there was insufficient evidence and the statements of the survivor and her mother, a witness, had not yet been recorded. Throughout June, IJM worked with police to gather all the necessary evidence. Police arrested the suspect on July 7th, and he confessed to the assault.
Initially, Lovisa’s parents were reluctant to take the case to court. IJM began providing psychosocial care for Lovisa and her family throughout the next several months. Eventually, enough trust was built that Lovisa’s parents agreed to participate in court proceedings.
At the same time, the perpetrator and his relatives began pressuring Lovisa’s family to withdraw the case and settle outside of court. With continued support and advice from IJM and partner Action Aid, the family refused to withdraw and insisted the case would proceed.
Unfortunately, due to lockdowns for COVID-19, the case proceeded without IJM being notified. Lovisa’s family could not afford transportation to reach the court. The case was called and then adjourned due to lack of witnesses, and in March 2021, the Resident State Attorney called IJM to say that the case was going to be dismissed and the perpetrator had been granted bail.
IJM attorneys jumped into action to ensure the trial moved forward with prosecution. Through several other issues, including the perpetrator jumping bail and disappearing, the case was again delayed. IJM investigators worked with police to track down the suspect over several days and were able to successfully arrest him on June 6th, 2021.
The suspect in this case is a known criminal in his community, with additional criminal charges in another court. His arrest has spoken volumes to the community that accountability is possible within the justice system. Once current COVID restrictions are lifted late in July, IJM staff are hopeful the case will progress without delay.
Looking at the numerous challenges to seeking justice in this case of sexual assault, it is clear how critical it is to provide training to law enforcement in evidence gathering and ensure holistic support to survivors and their families to keep them safe and enable them to participate in court proceedings without financial burden. These are some of the key activities that IJM is undertaking in order to effectively end violence against women and children in Uganda.