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How Rape Survivors Are Fighting For Justice Amid Stigma And Trauma


Aug. 09, 2019

In the UK, a study conducted in 2016 by the Trade Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism project found that 52 per cent of women  have experienced sexual misconduct at the workplace, including distasteful jokes, groping and sexual advances.
In Kenya, according to the 2014 Demographic Health Survey, 43 per cent of women between the ages of 15-49 have reported some form of gender-based violence. It is in the wake of this international movement that the Nation tells the stories of rape survivors who are still struggling to cope with the indignity of the vice
Wangu Kanja, founder, Wangu Kanja Foundation
Her gruesome story of rape has been told many times, and she is reluctant to retell it. She believes it is time to take the rape conversation to the next level, the bigger picture, and interrogate important issues such as “Why is it that our society treats rape victims so poorly?”. She also asks, “What mechanisms are in place to protect survivors of rape and ensure justice for them?”
These are the tough questions that Wangu has been wrestling with since she founded the Wangu Kanja Foundation in 2005. The foundation is located in the middle of some of Nairobi’s toughest slums. If you stand at the gate of the Ruben Centre, where the foundation is located, to the front, you will see Kwa Njenga and Pipeline slums. To your left is Kayaba and Fuata Nyayo slums. To the right, is Lungalunga and Sinai slums. All these informal settlements are hotbeds of rape and defilement cases that stream into the foundation on a daily basis.
In 2002, Wangu was raped during a carjacking incident as her two male friends were dropping her home after an evening out. It was 10pm. The four carjackers stole their belongings. Following the rape, the gangsters gave Wangu a Sh100 note and asked her to take a matatu home. She reported the matter to the police, hoping they would make arrests. But it was the casualness with which her rape was treated at Makongeni Police Station that appalled Wangu. The matter was recorded in the Occurrence Book as “robbery with violence” and not rape.
“To the police, it was not a big deal,” she says. “The Sexual Offences Act had not yet been passed (it was passed in 2006). Back then, there were no conversations about sexual violence.”
She would later get a post-rape examination within 72 hours as family members helped her secure counselling and ARVs. She then took a two-month break from work to deal with the trauma. But with no support, Wangu slipped into depression and anger, which she numbed with alcohol. She has never bothered to follow up on the case.
“Police never produced any suspect. Whether they investigated or interviewed the people we were with, I don’t know,” she says.
The environment in which rape survivors live is hostile. This is why Wangu reckons that there is a need for mechanisms to support rape survivors access justice. The path to justice, according to Wangu, is lonely, tough and intimidating, where a rape survivor has to deal with police, and then bear a lengthy court process. Many survivors also report intimidation by the perpetrators. The Judiciary, she says, has not done much to protect rape survivors due to testify in court. What is perhaps the worst post-rape nightmare for many survivors is coming out publicly to accuse an individual of rape. While rape victims — such as those interviewed for this story — opt to reveal their real names and have their pictures published, in most cases, perpetrators are accorded the luxury of anonymity and silence.
Society is notorious for branding survivors of rape, and giving them tags such as “the one who was raped”. It is for this reason that Wangu brought together other rape survivors and set up the Wangu Kanja Foundationa.
Cognizant of the fact that sexual violence is multi-pronged, and encompasses health, security, violence and social ills like alcohol and drugs, Wangu is working with men, women and children who have undergone sexual violence to talk about their pain, and for some, to acquire life skills such as making peanut butter for sale.
Many of her members are linked with counsellors, free medical facilities and are assisted in reporting their matters to police and following up on justice. The foundation has over 700 cases of sexual violence so far; 15 have proceeded to court of which five have been concluded with three convictions. Two cases, which were recently concluded, were thrown out of court for lack of evidence.
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