Liberian ambassador to visit Phoenix after rape of 8-year-old

AMANDA LEE MYERS, Associated Press Writer

PHOENIX (AP) — Liberia’s deputy ambassador to the U.S. will travel to Phoenix in hopes of meeting with an 8-year-old rape victim, the four boys accused of attacking her, their Liberian families, and to help dispel notions that rape is condoned in the West African country.

Edwin Sele told The Associated Press Monday that he’ll arrive on Wednesday and stay about a week.

“It’s important to go to Phoenix and see for myself and get to understand the situation,” he said. “Liberians all over the world are very much outraged and don’t want to be stigmatized by this.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf requested the embassy send someone to look into the situation, Sele said.

Police have said the attack occurred after four boys, ages 9 to 14, lured the girl to an empty storage shed July 16, promising her chewing gum.

In addition to concern for the girl, Sele said government officials are worried about how Liberia is being portrayed in news reports that describe rape as being condoned there.

Liberia has some of the strictest laws against rape in all of Africa, although Sele noted it was a common practice during 14 years of the country’s civil war.

“But before the war and after the war that is not the case,” he said. “That is no different from civil uprisings in Bosnia, Iraq and other places of lawlessness during conflict.”

The Liberian government is also concerned about police reports that the girl’s father said he was ashamed of her and didn’t want her back, which led Child Protective Services to take custody of the victim.

“I don’t want to believe that this family would want to send away this child who is victimized and was raped,” he said. “That is not normal in Liberian society, so I want to find out about that. Maybe it’s a matter of language.”

Pastor James Nyemah, who is acting as a spokesman for the girl’s family, said the father’s statements were a misunderstanding that resulted from a language barrier.

Robert Sherman, president of the Liberian Association of Arizona, said local Liberians are pleased about the visit and hope Sele will convey their thoughts to the government back home.

“It will be comforting to us for him to meet with the family members, as well as the Liberian community at large,” he said.

A preliminary hearing for the oldest boy was canceled after he was indicted by a grand jury on Friday.

The 14-year-old suspect is being tried as an adult on one count each of kidnapping, sexual assault and attempted sexual conduct with a minor, and four counts of sexual conduct with a minor.

His arraignment has not yet been scheduled.

The three other boys — ages 9, 10 and 13 — have been charged in juvenile court with sexual assault. The 10- and 13-year-olds also have been charged with kidnapping.

All four boys were arrested July 21.

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