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Rape cases in The Gambia

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By Alagie Saidy-Barrow

I was scouring Gambian newspapers when I came across a headline that caught my attention. It reads: Suspected Serial Rapist, Robber, Acquitted For Lack Of Evidence. I am not familiar with this particular case but over the years, I have keenly followed and sometimes “assisted” with rape cases in The Gambia. One case that stays with me is that of a young lady who was raped by a close family member whom she visited in his office to seek help. The rapist, like many other rapists, was calculating and deliberate in his actions, ensuring that if word of his beastliness ever comes out, it will be a case of she-said, he-said! Chances are, the victim was not the first person he raped.

In The Gambia, when rape cases boil down to he-said, she-said, the rapist often walks free. It does not have to be that way. Sadly, unless a rapist is faced with incontrovertible or incriminating evidence, they can easily get away with rape/rapes if they can get themselves a half-decent lawyer. This is not because the defendant is not a rapist or that they are innocent, but because our investigation and prosecution of rape cases often seek to primarily rely on confessions. There is nothing wrong with that if by seeking such confessions, investigators and prosecutors are guided by an understanding of sexual crimes, interview, and interrogation techniques. Forming an investigative panel to investigate crimes is not a bad idea but each member of that panel should be given clear goals according to the investigation plan.

Hardly would you ever come across any rapist that will confess to raping anyone. Even in cases where a rapist confesses to any contact with their victim, they will insist that whatever happened between them was consensual. And if they are a “smart” rapist, they’ll get a lawyer who will ensure they say as little as possible and only admit to statements that are not in dispute. When material evidence cannot be established, the case simply withers away and the rapist walks free. This is what often happens in The Gambia. Granted, investigators and prosecutors are faced with challenges that make it difficult to follow established standard operating procedures in rape investigations but this is also why we must think differently in investigating and prosecuting rape cases. The focus should be on training investigators on questioning, interviewing, and interrogating “witnesses.”

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While critical, obtaining a confession must not be the initial focus of our rape investigation when we have no other evidence. Rather, the focus of the investigation must start with gathering information that will encircle the suspect into a confession. This begins with some basic understanding of sexual crimes such as pedophilia, telephone scatology, sexual sadism, etc, and the role of fantasy in these crimes. As with any investigation, understanding the motive is critical to getting the truth out of subjects. For instance, in the headline above, the suspect is a serial rapist and chances are they have engaged in some form of paraphilic behavior (something that they fantasize about) towards their victims. Unlike animals, sex is not just a biological “function” among us humans, we also rely on “psychosexual involvement for arousal and gratification.” Therefore, in interviewing the victims of serial rapists or repeat rapists, one should be able to elicit the paraphilic behavior of the rapist by understanding their psychosexual tendencies. This goes to the heart of the personality of the suspect. In a society where chauvinism runs rampant, and where most victims know their rapist, simply suggesting to the suspect that the victim has some responsibility for what happened, or that “what happened” is not as serious as it is made out to be by the victim can spur the suspect into opening up.

As with any investigation, the questioning, interviewing of victims, and interrogation of suspects must be well-planned and structured with clear objectives. Rape cases are not like theft cases where you may find physical evidence weeks after the theft. Given the challenges of collecting, preserving and analyzing material evidence, our approach to rape investigations and prosecutions should be based on methodical and sophisticated procedures of questioning, interviewing, and interrogating witnesses. They should never fail simply because we let it come down to she-said, he-said.

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