The hashtag #JusticePourLouise has been trending in Senegal in recent days, the latest grim reminder of the country’s failure to deal with the scourge of sexual violence in Senegal’s education system.
In the latest case, a 19-year-old male student has been detained by police and accused of raping a 15-year-old girl, also a student at the same school. The accused reportedly shared a video about the rape that has been widely shared via WhatsApp and elsewhere. The widespread media coverage has included both condemnation of the rape and the accused, as well efforts to vilify and discredit the survivor’s account of the rape.
Rape, sexual exploitation, and abuse of students is a very serious problem in Senegal’s education system. Yet, it remains taboo and under-reported. Cases like Louise’s are only the tip of the iceberg: girls are subjected to abuse, by teachers and their peers, on a regular basis. The public is made aware of only the egregious cases. It takes a lot of courage for a girl or a family to break the taboo and silence, report it, and cope with the stigma and social isolation.
In 2018, Human Rights Watch found that Senegalese girls face high levels of sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse by teachers and school officials. Students also raped and sexually abused their peers. Most of these cases go unreported, and perpetrators are often not held to account.
The government has not yet accepted the scale of school-related sexual violence. It has also not moved swiftly enough to tackle school-related sexual violence in all its forms. #JusticePourLouise is yet another urgent call for the government to take firm action to end impunity associated with sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in Senegal.
The government should swiftly adopt a clear policy and protocol to ensure public and private schools are obliged to take action to tackle the scourge of school-related sexual violence, ensure they protect survivors when and after they report abuses, and compel all school officials to immediately and confidentially report any allegations to police and relevant judicial authorities.