Why We Started
More Than Me was founded to help vulnerable girls get off the street and into school when MTM’s Founder, Katie Meyler, met an 11-year-old girl who was giving oral sex in exchange for clean drinking water. Stories like hers were not uncommon, and Katie refused to stand by and let these abuses happen. MTM has come a long way since becoming a registered nonprofit in 2009, but the core beliefs of the organization remain: no child should be forced to sell herself for her basic needs and every child deserves to receive an education.
In June 2014, one of our students confided to the school nurse that she had been sexually assaulted by a male staff member who served as our community liaison. Upon hearing that news, the nurse informed the school administration staff who contacted Liberian police and the suspect was arrested two days later. We personally contacted supporters and shared the news online. Your reactions were incredible and unwavering in their support, and for that we thank you.
After being informed of the incident, our first priority was, and remains, the safety of our students. Due to our commitment to guarantee safety and trust when the first student came forward, other girls who claimed abuse felt supported enough to speak out. In cooperation with their parents and the Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection, we now pay for housing, a full-time social worker, and schooling for the girls who came forward in a safe house, with its location only known to select personnel.
After his arrest, there was little indication as to when the trial would be scheduled. Then Ebola hit, and the country’s already fragile systems went into crisis mode. We recently got news that the trial would begin in September 2015. It’s currently ongoing. The case is being brought by the Government of Liberia.
Zero Tolerance Policy
“I want it to be heard loud and clear that in no way do I support Macintosh Johnson or anyone who abuses children in any way. I stand 100% behind our students, and I want the Government of Liberia to bring full force down on this man. He should never be allowed to be around children again,” said Founder of More Than Me, Katie Meyler.
More Than Me has a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for abuse. Since the incident, we’ve taken the following steps to ensure the safety of our students:
- We reevaluated our ratio of male and female staff and have made every effort possible to hire qualified female teachers as they interact with our students the most. We continue to monitor all of our staff, regardless of gender, to ensure there is no abuse of any kind.
- Under no circumstance are girls left alone on campus or in vehicles with males.
- We have a schedule that is followed and we know where every single child is at any time during the day. The schedule allows no time for students to be alone with anyone in the building except with the nurse or social worker.
- We revised our child protection policy and code of conduct which all staff signed.
- We instituted rigorous background checks.
- We created and implemented a whistleblower protection policy.
- We created systems for anonymous complaints and formally documented complaints to further build a culture of trust among students and staff.
- We implemented sexual and reproductive health classes that include age appropriate awareness education on assault and abuse so students can recognize inappropriate behavior.
We never thought this would happen to us, nobody does; but at the same time, we knew that GBV was a rampant problem in Liberia, and still is. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called the country’s epidemic of child rape one of Liberia’s “biggest challenges” and “a growing concern”. According to Liberia’s Ministry of Gender, two-thirds of all rape victims in 2013 were between the ages of three and 14, yet less than one percent of perpetrators were convicted.
Refusing to Stay Silent
We are extremely proud of our students for coming forward. Their bravery and ability to advocate for themselves shows that standing up to violence is possible, and when safe places to report abuse are created in schools, and when schools take action, only then can justice begin to be served for Liberia’s children.
We want to be a resource for other organizations to look to. We must stand up to sexual abuse if we want to see progress. Our way of doing this on a larger scale is by helping to rebuild Liberia’s education system in support of the Ministry of Education, and bringing child protection policies and a culture of trust to the forefront of these reforms.Tweet