The decade-long war in Sierra Leone has been characterized by egregious human rights abuses committed primarily by the rebel forces against the civilian population. Throughout the conflict, thousands of women and girls were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence of unimaginable brutality, including sexual slavery. The low status of women and girls in Sierra Leone by law, custom and practice remains a contributing factor to their vulnerability and may have contributed to the widespread and systematic sexual violence. In addition to the combatants' motivation to achieve their strategic military objectives through terrorizing the civilian population, the fact that sexual violence during the Sierra Leone conflict predominantly involved men raping women reveals that conflict-related rape, like most rape, reflects this dynamic of gender inequality and subordination. This assertion by men of their power over women is deeply imbedded in societal attitudes in Sierra Leone. The international community and the government therefore need to think of creative ways to change these deeply embedded attitudes.
The lack of attention paid until recently, both nationally and internationally, to the widespread and systematic acts of sexual violence, sexual slavery and their consequences means that there are few assistance programs for survivors. The international community and the government of Sierra Leone should drastically increase funding to ensure that desperately needed health care, education, adult literacy, skills training, trauma counseling, and income-generating schemes are provided. Nor have there been any prosecutions. Rape therefore continues with impunity and it is little wonder that women and girls in post-conflict Sierra Leone remain vulnerable to non-conflict-related violence, and are reluctant to seek legal redress in the domestic courts or even report the incident given the country's inefficient and corrupt criminal justice system. Although, the establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should help to address this climate of impunity, the domestic legal system must urgently be revised to ensure that crimes of sexual violence are prosecuted in a sensitive manner. The international community therefore needs to fund legal reform and training programs for the criminal justice system as a whole, which has a key role in promoting and protecting the rights of Sierra Leonean women and girls.