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Sexual Violence Against Female Children in Liberia: A Cross-Sectional Study of Statutory Rape Prevalence Rates Related to Correlates of Gender Equity

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In recent decades, the Government of Liberia (GOL) and international partners have prioritized combatting child sexual abuse, including illicit and harmful early sexual practices involving girls and adult men. Previous studies indicate high rape rates among Liberian female populations, yet more research on specific forms of abuse is needed to better understand the magnitude of the problem. Applying Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework, this paper presents the results of a 2018 mixed-methods study of 719 Liberian young women (ages 18–35) and 493 of their parents, from urban/rural districts in Montserrado. The purpose is to contribute a large-scale representative study establishing the rate of female statutory rape and key correlates. The survey captures data measuring early sexual activity (ESA), education, socio-economic status, demographics, and knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors (KABs) associated with cultural ethnic customs, rural/urban settings, and gender rights. The statistical analysis indicates that 35.1% (95% CI 30.1–37.1) of Liberian women report experiencing ESA that qualifies as statutory rape under Liberian law. Age, ethnicity, location, SES, education, and most individual KABs are not correlated with lower rates (p < 0.05). The following are associated (unadjusted odds ratio [OR]): advanced education (OR 2.63, 95% CI 1.26–5.50); saying no to sex (0.57, 0.36–0.89); equitable work opportunities (2.15, 1.28–3.62); living with a man as a minor (0.47, 0.31–0.74); and early pregnancy (0.45, 0.32–0.65). Additionally, 39.7% (95% CI 31.2–44.1) of male assailants hold school-based occupations. As the ecology of girls is increasingly shifting in low-income nations, it is crucial to better understand the face of abuse to protect children’s welfare.

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Due to privacy and ethical concerns, neither the data nor the source of the data can be made available.


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Appreciation to Dr. Richard Ngufuan, Alexis McMasters, Desmond Diggs, Prisie Badu, and Malynda Omens Davies, and the University of Pittsburgh, and Liberian consultants, including representatives from RESH, University of Liberia, AME Zion University, Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection, Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, UNMIL, FAWE, UNICEF, and Teach for All/Liberia. Special thanks to funding from the University of Pittsburgh and the British Embassy-Liberia, and the dedicated team of social welfare enumerators supported by RESH. This paper is dedicated to female survivors of gender sexual abuse, including Hawa, whose story inspired this research. We dedicate this paper in the memory of William “Bill” Dunn, who passed shortly after completion of this research.


The authors declare that this research data collection was funded in 2018 by the University of Pittsburgh’s Provost Development Fund, and the British Embassy, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office under the Programme funding of Girls’ Education Fund, project entitled, Liberia – Girls Education: Advocacy and research capacity building for CSOs in gender responsive education.

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JHD led in the research design, data collection in Liberia, data analysis, and statistical analysis, and writing of the article. WD contributed to the research design and statistical analysis. EGS supported data collection, the discussion and results, and contextualization of the data analysis to Liberian society and culture. JHD, WD, and EGS are the guarantor of the overall content and controlled the decision to publish. WD tragically passed away from cancer in 2023, and gave permission to submit this article on his behalf. His wife further provided permission.

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Correspondence to Jessi Hanson-DeFusco.

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Ethics Approval

This article presents field-collected involving human participants. All participants were informed and agreed to voluntarily participate during the informed consent, and all data is deidentified and anonymous. Therefore, it required the approval of two ethics committees, from the University of Liberia (UL-PIRE IRB#:FWA00004982) and the University of Pittsburgh (IRB#:PRO17120125).

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Reviewed and accepted by University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs dissertation committee.

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Hanson-DeFusco, J., Dunn, W.N. & Smith, E.G. Sexual Violence Against Female Children in Liberia: A Cross-Sectional Study of Statutory Rape Prevalence Rates Related to Correlates of Gender Equity. J. Hum. Rights Soc. Work 9, 47–70 (2024).

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