On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch issued a report raising dire concerns about the incidence of sexual abuse of female Ivorian refugees in Liberia. The women with whom they spoke said that many had been forced to trade sex for food, shelter, or money so that they and their children could survive. The report quotes a 25-year old woman who had been gang-raped by three men before she left the Ivory Coast:
I have five children to look after and the food here makes them ill. I have to make money for other food. During sex with men in Toe Town, they ask me to do things I don't want to do and say they won't pay me if I don't agree. I need the money so I have no choice and I do what they say.The vulnerability of these impoverished refugee women combined with the breakdown of social mores in Liberia during its 14 years of civil war have set the stage for this sexual exploitation. Though both prostitution and sex with minors are illegal under Liberian law, the police forces are "undisciplined, poorly managed, and ill-equipped." It falls instead on UNHCR to ensure the safety of these women who have fled violence in their home country. This is a tall order, and one that will require significant support from an international donor base whose attention is focused elsewhere.