Liberian Vice President, Jewel Taylor, on Tuesday lent her voice to demands for a probe into a United States (US) educational charity, after girls were raped at a school supposed to save them from a life of sexual exploitation.
Last week the charity, More Than Me, admitted to major failings and deeply apologised after the scale of the abuse came to light.
“I strongly denounce this act of exploiting our young girls and putting an organisation’s interest before the lives of our children,” said Taylor.
“I will never condone this act from anyone, be it foreign or domestic. Please allow us to do due diligence.”
Last week, the US investigative site, ProPublica, described how girls were systematically raped at the More Than Me Academy in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. The charity had founded the school specifically to empower and educate local girls to save them from prostitution and sexual coercion.
The rapes, some of them perpetrated against children as young as 10, were carried out by the charity’s co-founder, Macintosh Johnson, who later died of Aids, ProPublica said in a piece co-published with Time. The assaults took place at a school at West Point, a notorious slum in Monrovia.
It opened in 2013 to a blaze of publicity, becoming the first of 18 schools that More Than Me opened in the impoverished West African state.
ProPublica described Johnson as a “charming hustler” who insinuated himself with Katie Meyler, an evangelical Christian who created the charity. She eventually raised more than $8 million in funding, nearly $600 000 of which came from the US government, and gained the support of Liberia’s then President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Taylor said ProPublica’s investigation was a “horrific reminder of what continues to happen to the most vulnerable in our society, our young girls. First and foremost, we must give the appropriate attention to the girls and victims at the institution. Medical and psychological support must be rendered to them and their families,” she said.
“Second, my office will engage all parties involved to ensure that the current children under the care of the institution are safe and protected.” After some of the girls came forward to reveal what was happening, Johnson was suspended by the school and arrested.
He was facing trial when he died in 2016 from an illness that ProPublica said was AIDS, stoking fears that he had infected his victims with HIV.
On Friday, More Than Me said it was “profoundly, deeply sorry” and would strengthen efforts to prevent any recurrence. “To all the girls who were raped by Macintosh Johnson in 2014 and before: we failed you,” it said.
Separately, the information ministry late Monday said the government was reviewing the ProPublica report.
“We are currently looking into it after which we will inform the Liberian people about our official position,” Deputy Information Minister, Eugene Fahngon, was quoted as saying by the Liberia News Agency.