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Liberian Woman Uses Legal Service to Stop Abuse

For 30 years, Henrietta Gayflor* endured ongoing physical abuse from her partner. After he assaulted her in her front yard one day, Gayflor decided to take action.

But in the town of Harper, in rural Liberia, where police are scarce and not always willing to intervene in domestic disputes, help is not easy for a battered woman to come by.

Gayflor had heard about a service called the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), a local partner of The Carter Center, which provides legal assistance. Community advisers mediate disputes, advocate for justice, refer clients to law enforcement and the JPC's own legal aid attorney, and advise people of their rights.

Gayflor discussed her case with JPC monitor Wleemogar Tyler, who gave her available options; she decided to pursue a restraining order to keep her partner away from her. The case was then referred to JPC attorney John Gbesioh, a recent graduate of the law school at the University of Liberia.

Gbesioh talked local police officers through the process of requesting the restraining order from the magistrate; the officers had never heard of such a thing.

"Mr. Gbesioh did well," Gayflor said. "I was not even there. He went and got that paper. Before I even went back, the paper was already in his hand."

The JPC is equipped to handle any number of legal problems Liberians might face, running the gamut of land disputes to divorce to theft to witchcraft.

"Without police, without courts, without prisons, people still have disputes. In rural Liberia, the formal justice system is often nonexistent, but disputes must be resolved," said John Hummel, Carter Center project manager in Liberia. "Our program helps ensure rural Liberians resolve their disputes through dialogue as opposed to violence."

In 2008, JPC monitors in southeastern Liberia worked with more than 200 clients. The program has recently expanded into three central Liberian counties.

Since receiving the restraining order, Gayflor has resumed her regular activities, and Tyler periodically checks in on her and her former partner. Sometimes, if Gayflor is not around, her partner will enter her yard to visit their son and hold his granddaughter. But he has not bothered Gayflor.

Gayflor has since passed the word about the help she received; she recently advised her cousin to seek assistance with his child support case from a PC monitor in Pleebo, a town about an hour's drive away.

*Not her real name.

Carter Center Photos

Community members gather in Harper, a town in rural Liberia, to hear about the legal assistance program, supported by The Carter Center.

John Gbesioh, attorney for the Justice and Peace Commission in Liberia, assists citizens with legal matters.

Learn more about our work in Liberia >

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