In 2002 the 11 year long civil conflict in Sierra Leone was declared officially over and the work of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started. During the eleven-year war in Sierra Leone, rape among other sexual offences became popular and was used as a weapon of destruction and held women and girls into captivity. It was evidenced that rape, sexual violence and sexual slavery became prominent tactics of warfare. The TRC report recorded the testimonies of 800 women and girls who were raped albeit many victims decided not to show up bearing in mind societal perceptions; they did not only become preys of rape, but also victims of the situation (where silence could be the only source of security) (TRC Report, 2002).
The Commission singled out women and children as a vulnerable group that had suffered some of the worst atrocities of the civil conflict. Some excerpts of the findings and recommendations made on violence against women and girls and the justice system prevailing at the time necessitated the establishment of the Rainbo Centre.
The Rainbo Centers were established at a time when women and girls were returning home after years of displacement internally or as refugees. The Rainbo Centres offered a safe and confidential place for women and girls who had suffered violence to name their experience, get free medical treatment, and receive psychosocial support.
The Rainbo Centres, previously known as Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs), were first opened in 2003 by International Rescue Committee (IRC) with funding from DFID. Between 2003 and 2005, the IRC established the three Centers in Freetown, Kenema and Kono, to provide a place where survivors of sexual and gender-based violence could find clinical care, counselling, referral to key service providers, and hope.
The Rainbo Centres were the first, and still are the only, free sexual and physical assault and domestic violence support and referral centres in Sierra Leone.
In their 16 years of operation, the Centers have supported over 30,000 women and girl survivors of sexual and domestic violence. From 2015 to 2019, they have supported a total of 15,401 survivors, and of that number, 14,009 (93%) are rape survivors and 7% is sexual assault survivors. From that total number of rape and sexual assault survivors, 94% of cases are girls 17 years and under, with 29% under 11 years. The rainbow symbol speaks to the services that the centers provide for everyone irrespective of race, tribe, color, religion, or nationality. The rainbow color speaks of hope to the survivors. The centers are located within district hospitals but isolated from busy areas. Being located within hospitals allows the Centers to identify and access a qualified medical doctor to endorse all medical forms quickly, in a context where medical personnel is scarce. It also enables quick referral when survivors need medical attention over the longer term. More importantly, it reduces the stigma of accessing sexual assault services; survivors don’t have to say they are going to the Centre.
The problem increases daily in that way warranting a presidential proclamation of a State of Emergency on Sexual and Gender Based Violence. The government together with its development partners, civil society, NGOs and other key stakeholders have concertedly worked over the years to reduce the alarming issue, yet it seems increasing
From the Rainbo Centers to the RAINBO INITIATIVE
In 2013 the Rainbo Centers transformed to become a registered national Non-Governmental Organization (NNGO) in Sierra Leone that functions independently from IRC and sustainable. Up to 2013, the centres were managed by the IRC with funding support from Irish Aid and other donors. Rainbo Initiative was first registered with the Administrator General’s Office in May 2013.