How can survivors of child sexual abuse move on?
How does one tell their story of injustice in the face of corruption and a world where the rich and powerful get away with crime? How is a victim of child sexual abuse expected to just move on when part of the ‘moving on’ process has been denied – when there is gross injustice in circumstances where they deserve to be rightly heard as survivors of abuse and due legal process has not taken its course.
How do you reconcile the feeling of staying sane when you are unsupported by the police and authorities like the attorney general who are meant to uphold the law, investigate and prosecute such criminal cases? How does one explain the dichotomy between experiences in the western world and a developing country by mere fact of the crime being committed in different geographical locations? Is child sexual abuse crime any less of a crime because it happened in a town in Ghana versus a town in the UK?
Is the worth of a child less, for the simple fact that they were born in Ghana/Africa as opposed to a country in the western world? How does this affect a Christian journey of faith and belief in a righteous and just God?
I am writing to share the story of my challenge in my journey to seek justice for abuse I suffered as a child/teenager whilst living in Ghana in the early 90s. I write, completely unashamed and unapologetic for those who may cringe at the details of it and would rather it remain a secret and hidden. Keeping such experiences a secret do not lessen the impact of it and from my lived experience, it can affect you in an even greater way with more negative impact when you keep it undisclosed for a much longer time.
I am spurred on to share my story and campaign to make authorities victim friendly where specific to my experience, victims of child sexual abuse are heard at whatever stage in their recovery journey when they feel ready to disclose. If that hopefully means that disclosure happens earlier and not take over two decades like in my case, I welcome it. Thanks to good counsel received, I know the blame and shame is not mine as a child who was abused by an adult she trusted. I feel it’s particularly important to share my story to highlight the many facets of sexual abuse, which is entrenched in my community/Ghana as a nation, and unfortunately Ghanaian police and responsible authorities’ lack of action/interest and willingness to tackle this plight in the society.
My name is Irene Antwi (born Irene Oduro). As a victim of historic child sexual abuse, I felt bold and strong enough to even contemplate confronting my perpetrator in 2017, which was some 25years since my abuse. He was not only a family friend but a father figure to me.
My journey in the last 24 months has heightened the anguish and pain of my abuse to the extent that, I am greatly disturbed to even think of much younger victims who do not have the emotional reserves to deal with the aftermath of such a heinous crime on children. I am saddened by the manner in which I have being treated as a survivor of historic child sexual abuse by Ghanaian authorities.
I write today, in the hope of raising awareness of the dichotomy between what happens in one’s fight to seek justice in an African context as opposed to seeking justice in a western world context. Abuse is abuse wherever in the world it happens and though the western world have made strides in confronting and continually dealing with this heinous crime, victims and survivors in a developing country like Ghana are not given a voice or heard and in practice, are treated like ‘third world’ victims/survivors even when they dare to disclose and/or confront their abuser.
During my childhood/teenage years between the ages of 12-14 years (1991-early 1994), I was sexually abused by someone I trusted and looked up to as a father figure. I never disclosed to my mother or any other family member as a child until February 2017 when I decided to confront my perpetrator, which resulted in other family members getting to know about the abuse I had suffered. Prior to my disclosure, it was only a handful of people who knew of my past.
Due to my Christian background and that of the perpetrator(at least in public), who is not only a public figure but one who is highly influential in some circles of the Ghanaian Christian community both in Ghana and abroad, I made a conscious effort to firstly confront him privately. Despite my assertive nature and strong will and determination to confront my past, I still faced the possibility of a backlash from my community including my close family due to the family’s close relationship with this individual, as well as the stigma and taboo associated with daring to bring such matters into the open. It was a very contentious issue in my family when I finally disclosed this.
In an African context, this kind of abuse is seen not only as a matter of individual shame for the victim but as ‘collective shame’ for the extended family and the associated community. I considered all of this in my decision to confront him privately or at least give him the opportunity to repent as a Christian. However, I was very clear in my mind and in my communication through others to him that I was willing to take up the matter formally if he was dismissive of this issue.
The British Police (CID) interviewed me in 2017, prior to their referral of my case to Ghanaian Police authorities via Interpol in July 2017. The decision to involve authorities was a reluctant but necessary option as I had no other way of knowing if he is not a current risk to others. Unfortunately, it appears the Interpol referral, which was confirmed, as received by the Ghanaian authorities in July 2017, has not been acted on and I can safely assume it was brushed under the carpet due to the status of the perpetrator.
Following lack of action by Ghanaian Police authorities in 2017, I made the decision to seek justice through civil proceedings in Ghana on the grounds of violations of my human rights etc. I will note that my case was in the courts from October 2017, where there was possibly over 10 hearings, two judges having to sit after the first judge recused himself due to conflict of interest/connections with my abuser, with the case reassigned by the Chief Justice to a new Judge from February 2018.
After over 10 hearings within a 12-month period, I was advised by my lawyer (based in Ghana) that my case had being dismissed on grounds of time limitation, that I was too late to bring proceedings for abuse of child sexual abuse as the abuse happened over 25years ago. On the 13th of November 2018 when I received this information, I felt like a 3rd class citizen of the world as an African even though I live in a developed country. I was saddened by the chain of events where my primary recourse of seeking justice through the criminal route had being hampered by either corruption and/or incompetence by Ghanaian police authorities / institutions such as the Ministry of Justice and then being told that I had no recourse to seek redress through civil proceedings due to time limitations. I was mortified to think that this only happened because my abuse happened in Africa and as an African, the message was that I do not deserve justice as a victim of historic child abuse.
To show the extent of my continued nightmarish journey in my wrangling with the legal system in Ghana and my quest to seek justice, I had sight of the ruling/ judgement after almost four weeks of waiting, where any hope of appeal was dashed as whether deliberately or not, the judgment was issued outside the 21 day appeal period, further discouraging any efforts, if none at all, to appeal the ruling. The unfortunate and sad thing is it appears the authorities do not really care and for a democratic and respected country like Ghana in the world stage, this is the sad reality.
I had made attempts to get some answers about the Interpol referral through appeal to the Ghana High Commission in the UK where I was told in October 2018 that my case would be referred to the Legal and Consular Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Regional Integration but once again, another institutional failure – no progress. I intend to continue my quest for justice and to campaign for a change in the law in Ghana where a victim of child sexual abuse would not have to go through the harrowing experience I have gone through (and still going through) and specific to the circumstances of my case, be able to seek redress through civil proceedings, especially when there appears to be an element of corruption or sheer incompetence, resulting in the lack of action by the responsible authorities in pursuing a criminal case.
My question to the Police Authorities in Ghana – what is the reason for lack of action following the Interpol referral by the British Police in July 2017. The British Police have and continue to offer their support to follow up on the Interpol referral they made through the National Crime Agency in the UK. In my efforts to get some answers, I have also emailed the Attorney General Office in Ghana and the Office of the President regarding the matter of the lack of action by Ghanaian police regarding the Interpol referral which could result in a criminal prosecution against my abuser. Unfortunately, there’s been no acknowledgement of receipt of my emails or a response to my complaint regarding progress of my case.
I pray that our leaders would let victims know that they matter, would be listened to and that they would receive justice irrespective of the time of disclosure.
It has been a difficult decision to break my silence but I believe someone has to tell their story in highlighting such cases of institutional failure. I hope my campaign will lead to change in government agencies attitude towards victims/survivors where they duly investigate criminal offences of this nature and not put victims in a position where they are caught between a rock and a hard place – with no redress through either criminal or civil route. My hope is that my case will highlight the extent of police authorities’ failure and the lack of accountability in undertaking a key aspect of their job – investigating a criminal offence as per referral by Interpol.
As a woman of faith who loves the Lord and has reverential fear of my God, I am convinced that it is God’s will that justice is done and though one may be forgiven, the consequence of what they have done does not get overlooked and even more especially, when they are not remorseful. I add the latter statement because that is very important to me as a victim. I was abused by someone I looked up to as a father figure, who is accepted in my community and many Christian circles as a Christian man and a philanthropist, one who loves God through his charitable work amongst others but it doesn’t change the fact of what happened and the fact that he as an adult who sexually abused me as a child is not only morally wrong but a crime within the structures of societal rule and law.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants (Ps 89:14 NLT)