Intelligent. Kenyan.

Published: 4 years ago

Warning, Rape Ahead

This article in the Daily Nation tells the completely heart wrenching story of Liz, a girl in Busia who was brutally raped and then thrown in a pit latrine to die, something she refused to do. Alive now, but with a bad case of fistula and a broken back – she bays for some sort of justice. Her attackers, who she identified, were told to slash some grass, then let go. This, in someone’s eyes, was an adequate punishment to fit the crime.

Liz is not her real name. However, it is a name that I have carried with me this week. Her name reached into my mind and pulled to the forefront the names we have heard over the years: Mercy Keino, Chelegat Mutai, Duduzile Zozo. Names that have managed to make their way out of the woodwork that would rather they undergo the rigorous process of forgettingness. These names stay with me because of the culture they represent. They are the faces, names to a struggle that runs a lot deeper than we would like to talk about, that we would like to see. They do the work of reminding us that rape is a very real, and a very horrible thing.

I’m worried about how their lives will be used. Will anyone talk to men, and use this as an example of what shouldn’t be done? Or will this be another excuse to tell women that it is a tough world out there? In Thrown, like another, Wambui Mwangi writes:

If you are a young girl, at the moment you become aware of yourself enough to look up and take in the workings of the world, a woman has always-already just been beaten or raped or killed.  Because the food was late, or burned.  Because she smiled at Another Man.  Because there was no reason.  Not-you has always just been killed.   Or she will be, soon.  Later today, or tomorrow, or perhaps it happened yesterday. Not-you’s body was found raped, torn apart, mutilated, dead.

 The policing of women’s bodies is not something that we can say is new. From a young age girls are taken through a rigorous process of training, in becoming, where they should, or should not be as women. Simple questions like, “Why were you walking at night?” carry the connotation that a woman shouldn’t be walking at night. And, if they are, they deserve whatever ills happen to them.

In this essay 3CB writes:

The average woman isn’t afraid of being raped by strange men in a dark alley. She knows enough not to go there. The average woman is afraid of being raped when she’s in a matatu on her way home, and the only other woman in the matatu has alighted. She’s afraid that if she follows the other woman and alights at that stage, far from her own home, she might be attacked by random men outside. But she’s equally terrified of staying in the matatu and having the men inside turn on her.

This fear is how women are governed, how they are shown exactly where they fit in the grand scheme of things. I think about this as I try and imagine (a thing that is proving very nearly impossible) how Liz was feeling, thinking as she lay there all night in the latrine. Sinking in a sea of shit, what could possible go through your mind? How can one begin to reconcile what has just happened to them? No matter how hard I try to imagine what it could have been like, I fail to find the words, images, or emotions to get to the depths that she must have sunk to. I think about how much worse it must have been to make it out alive, identify your attackers and watch them cut grass as their punishment. Seeing the value of your life be reduced to nothing but a clean compound.

“and he who does not know his past,

is bound to repeat it”

–          Saul Williams, She.

I think about the work these tales do, and about what may (or may not) come out in the future about this girl. Was she drinking? Is it a – generally – unsafe area? These are all things that may come up. As with Mercy Keino, the girl who was murdered – her body thrown on the side of the road like a cob of maize. She was drinking, wasn’t she? Because that’s what we do here to women who drink – we kill them.

The rapist has been portrayed as a sasquatch, or a lochness monster. The rapist is this monster of a human being who is recluse, smells horrible and only scurried around in the dark of the night – waiting for prey.  A far away mythical creature. Most rapes happen within the home, where the girl is to be most protected, and the society covers them up. I think about the story of Liz and how the community watched in silence as the men who raped her were told to slash grass and now walk around as if they have paid their penance. Did no one in that community stop, and think “Wait a minute….?” Even if they did, one must worry about the collective conscious of a society where, even as one thinks of this, they must stay silent because they are not sure if anyone will accept the challenge they put forward. So this story, as many other rape stories, goes to reside in the cautionary category.

I’m wary of cautionary tales.

I’m worried that no one will use these stories to initiate that conversation with their sons where we are told that a woman’s body is not at our disposal. That conversation where we are told that consent is vital. That conversation where we are told that just because a woman smiles at you, or likes talking to you, doesn’t mean that she owes you sex. That conversation where the ‘friend zone’ is demystified – there is nothing wrong with being friends with a girl. It is not a screw or screw you situation.

The NY times, in June, ran a story on a victory for girls in Kenya. This victory was when a judge delivered a ruling, in which he said: “By failing to enforce existing defilement laws, the police have contributed to the development of a culture of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence against girl children and impunity.” In response to a friend wrote “Look how much work it took.  To say what? That police should properly investigate rape cases.“ This bothers me, not that a judge finally realized the very glaringly obvious; but that it had to be discovered.

The data itself is glaring when 64.8% of women who are victims of gender based violence are beaten by their husbands/partners, the rapist can no longer be this monster that is hiding in the dark somewhere. When one in five married women reports having experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner, we cannot keep this rapist in the closet as a mystical creature we use to police women. Will Liz be the story we tell to enforce this rapist who is removed from society? To warn people of the rapist that lies out there in wait? To say, “Stay indoors darling. Wear longer clothes darling. We care for you darling. Don’t get raped dear. Stay safe dear, stay safe.”

6 Comments.
  1. Waceke says:

    This post has made me cry. Tears of despair and sadness for Liz, Mercy and all the unnamed women and children going through this everyday. For those being violated by those that should protect them. For being told to keep silent for the sake of ‘family honour’. For the fact that even in my house in what is considered a relatively safe area, I have to lock the door when I am alone. I weep for my unborn daughter, whom I worry about even though she is just an idea in my head. I weep

    • Michael Onsando says:

      Thank you for your comment Waceke. We can only keep going and hope your unborn daughter finds the world a better place.

  2. Society! Bitch! (I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad.)

  3. This is a good article Michael, and probably inspired this one >> http://thismansmind.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/how-men-in-a-country-whose-national-past-time-is-rape-believe-women-think/?utm_content=buffer7b656&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer

    A quick search online.. and so many countries are going through the same US has its own miscarriage of Justice case in this story http://t.co/yuORmccCA9. We should look at “rape” and “gender based violence”, “sex” and “communication” from different angles.
    Also, we need that conversation, with the state, police machinery.. with our men and boys NOT just the women (majority of the victims).

    This opens up another door, if rape is been visited on the “weaker sex” what about the “defenseless populace” ie young boys. This is another reason why rape can not be dismissed, should not be filtered “case by case” If it was not invited it was not wanted. We can not have kids scared of being kids. Kids whose innocence was just shafted away. Kids scared of being with adults, scared of being alone If we let that happen.. this will be a self-perpetuating cycle. We’ll have kids growing up ready to mete out the “Same” because thats how they;ve grown up ergo it must be a ‘way of life’ ie our culture.
    The same way we’ll have other kids who’ve grown through this.. and dont even seek to report it.. coz it ‘must’ be a way of life, our culture despite being painful.

    This weekend, a friend of a friend, and a cousin were all raped (at a party and by boyfriend’s best friend) These two reached out to call me. They decided not to go to the cops. As much as that is not right, i would not blame them. They’ve joined the “tribe of the statistic”..because 1 in 25 of rapes are reported in Kenya where the perp is known to us. And that demeans the victim even more because what if she was doing everything ‘right’..? She was home at the right time, was not drunk, was wearing baggy clothes, no make-up – and still she got raped!! by someone that’s known to the family, someone that at best is supposed to protect her.
    There is nowhere safe. Not even home. Not for a woman.

    • Michael Onsando says:

      Thank you for your response Mumbi, and for writing that article. This looming danger, this victim blaming, this instituonalised oppression – this is what we try to change, one mind at a time.

  4. David says:

    It is shocking when we get to hear about gender based violence in this time and age. Clearly, we have a long way to gi

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