Concern as children become target of rape
It was lovely day for Jenny Wambui* as she and two of her friends—a boy and a girl—left church. The sunny day belied the darkness that would visit the trio later after the birthday celebration for one of them.
Off they hopped to Kasarani for skating, and after everything ended and twilight arrived, they trooped back home.
They used their normal route, a pathway behind Kasarani stadium, on Thika Road. Busy with a conversation, they did not notice anything strange until a man suddenly appeared from a thicket.
“He held a knife that had a serrated plane. It was bloody, as if it has just been used. And truthfully it was. The man told us, ‘Cooperate or become like the person I have just killed.’ He then showed us a body,” Wambui says.
Scared, they followed the man into a nearby bush.
“He told us to sleep on our tummies and took off our shoes. He used the laces to tie my hands and that of my male friend.
My other friend, with the free hands, was tasked with operating our phones because he wanted us to send him money from our M-Pesa accounts. Since we were all under 18, we did not have such accounts,” she explains.
It was at this point that things turned for the worst. The man picked up Wambui’s friend, took her aside and asked her to undress.
She resisted and even tried to use the knife to attack the man, but he proved too strong for her. She was left with a thigh injury thanks to the knife, and mental trauma due to rape.
Once done with her friend, the man turned on Wambui and raped her. “He even had the audacity to ask me for my number after the deed,” she says.
When he let them go and disappeared, the trio run all the way to one of the nearest hospitals along Thika Road, but were quickly referred to Medicins sans Frontiers (Doctors without borders/MSF) sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) centre in Mathare called the Lavender House.
Wambui and her friends received first hand care and counseling session to overcome the trauma.
Wambui and her friend are among the many Nairobians accessing services from the centre, specifically set up to address the SGBV cases in the city. It had started under the HIV/Aids programme MSF was running in 2007.
“Right after intervening in the Post Election Violence, we started seeing clients coming for HIV testing, with many getting positive results.
On further inquiry, we found out that they had been sexually assaulted, and there were no such care services then, ” says Cecilia Gakii, the Medical Team Leader at the centre.
The centre moved from addressing nine cases in 2008 when they set up to 3,200 cases in 2018 only, with the Mathare centre handling 2,000 cases and four other sites including Mama Lucy Hospital, handling 1,200.
“Across all cases we have handled, 50 per cent (1,600) accounts for minors (below 18 years) sexually abused; 50 per cent of the total minors (800) are children below 12. Overall, 10 per cent is minors, both male and female, below age five,” Gakii adds.
“The numbers are informed by the context in which we work. Eastlands is made up of informal setups and children are left to caretakers and no formal structures exist to ensure minors are taken care of during the day when their parents leave for work. This is why we see a lot of minors being abused,” Gakii explains.
Anne Muthoni, the psychologist at the centre, says sexual violence has a huge impact on survivors, especially minors. “Abused children exhibit intense fear and hyper vigilance, where they are keen on their surrounding.
This happens in the first few months of trauma. Sleep is affected, and in children who have already undergone toilet training, they regress and need to be toilet-trained all over again,” she says.
Muthoni, who handles children, vulnerable populations, refugees, people living with mental and physical disabilities, incest cases and people who become pregnant after assault, has heard some heart wrenching stories.
“In one incest case involving a five year old, there was lot of frustrations because it was considered a family issue, and most times, families want to discuss and resolve it within family.
But the mother was adamant in following up the case legally because the perpetrator was the biological father. The child has gotten a lot of psychological healing from the man being incarcerated,” Muthoni adds.
She also explains there are individual and societal factors that contribute to increasing cases of defilement (defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2006 as an act which causes penetration with a child) and indecent acts with a child.
“Perpetrators have no empathy for their victims. Their ill tendencies may be as a result of a number of issues such as early sexual debut, having coercive sexual fantasies and toxic masculinity.
Other contributing factors include general aggressiveness in the community and the acceptance of violence to the level that it is the norm,” she says.
Beatrice Njeri, Head of Legal Department at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) says prevalence of violence in the society and lack of prosecution of perpetrators makes children more vulnerable to such violence.
“Prevalence on all levels from adults to children and even in marriage setup has normalised the violence,” she says.
She adds that in most cases, children know their perpetrators and she calls on parents to be more vigilant in observing their children.
“Beware when children exhibit discomfort around a person and don’t force them to show affection such as greeting or hugging adults,” she says, highlighting the increasing cases of boys who have been sexually assaulted by househelps.
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 shows in the country, 14 per cent and six per cent of women and men aged 15-49 respectively have faced sexual violence once in their life.
The Gender-Based Violence In Kenya: The Economic Burden On Survivors report by National Gender and Equality Commission in 2016 says one-fifth of Kenyan women had been victims of sexual violence, with the highest percentage having been violated by current or former partners or spouses.
According to the National Crime Research Centre, in Nairobi, rape, gender based violence and defilement stand at 9.7, 5, 3.9 against a national average of 12.9, 9.2, and 7.1 respectively.
While this covers the whole city, the cases at the MSF centre come from the larger Eastlands area, with a few cases from other locations such as Kitengela.
Fortunately, thanks to the intentional campaign to create awareness about sexual violence not only in the community, but also in the police and judiciary, most survivors get to the centre within the required 72 hours to access immediate post exposure care.
Besides offering medical care, the centre also offers shelters to unaccompanied survivors and works with the children department to assist survivors deal with the police and legal officers.
“We also have two temporary shelters, called a halfway centre, where children and female survivors stay for a night or two nights on weekends as we try to find a solution for their cases,” a social worker at the clinic, Mkabane Moses Juma says. Shelter for male survivors is outsourced, and it comes with fare back home, food and a change of clothes for all survivors.
Even so, there are challenges. “For refugees, the cases are complicated because of unresolved trauma. For some of them, if they are not helped with their livelihood and security issues from partner agencies, it affects their mental health and impedes their recovery,” Muthoni says.
Stigma and shame also make reporting difficult. “Most people do no trust the legal system or that they will get justice.
Sometimes, perpetrators are people of better status than the survivors so, even if they go to court, officials would be bribed and the case thrown out,” she adds, highlighting a case where a male survivor was assaulted by a male relative of a prominent figure and when he arrived at the gender desk at a police station, they dismissed his case, saying that men do not experience sexual assault.
This indicates a huge gap in awareness and sensitivity in handling such cases. “Incest cases, especially where the perpetrator is a benefactor to the family are resolved to maintain the flow of income.
Pressure from relatives causes children to drop cases,” Muthoni adds. Negotiation with perpetrators for monetary compensation is also common.
Njeri says there needs to be a shift in the attitude and norms of a society, from creating awareness in parents to support their minors. “Children do no have the mechanism to report, and without the parents’ support, predators will still be around to abuse that child again or other children,” she explains.