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Manhunt for alleged sexual offender in southern Sierra Leone

Police in Pujehun have mounted a manhunt for an alleged sexual offender who is on the run.

The suspect, Joseph Mende, said to be over 50 years old, is alleged to have had sex with and impregnated a 16-year-old Class 4 pupil. 

Mende, who is ironically a former Chairman of the Pujehun District Local Police Partnership Board, currently serves as member of the District Security Coordination Committee. He is also a former District Chairman of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) party.

Line Manager of the Police Family Support Unit (FSU), Sergeant Lahai Koroma, who is attached to the district’s main divisional headquarters, told Politico that Mende went into hiding after learning of his imminent arrest. He disclosed that the suspect had been previously accused of a similar offence.

"I have once locked this man up for four days and charged before the Pujehun Magistrate Court for the same sexual penetration offence, and he was remanded for five days," Sgt Koroma said in a telephone interview.

He said the current matter was reported by the parents of the victim on April 17, as having occurred on 10 April.

"What is more disheartening is that the sexual penetration resulted in a teenage pregnancy and the perpetrator is nowhere to be seen," he said.

"We have received intelligence that the renowned sexual penetrator plans to travel to Ghana, but to get rid of him we are going to share his photo with headquarters in Freetown for prompt alert."

Koroma then blamed residents in the township of Pujehun for aiding the suspect to escape justice.

Pujehun has always been a hotbed of sexual violence against women and girls, with little attention from political leaders and district authorities. Campaigners in the town blame the reticence on some of the authorities having been once named in a similar offence.

An even more worrying situation is the alleged involvement of some police and military officers in the crime, according to latest development.

Over 90 sexual penetration cases against young girls were reported to the Pujehun main police FSU in 2016 alone, according to police records.

The FSU says this situation has remained persistent largely because people were committing the crimes with impunity.

Besides the current case, the FSU recently reported that it was investigating three separate cases of sexual penetration involving girls aged 12, 14, and 16 years. Two people suspected of involvement in those cases are still on the run.

Copyright (c) Politico 2017