[Trigger Warning: This piece may be traumatising to victims of rape or sexual abuse]
by K. A. ALI
A court sentenced an 80 year old woman to seven years imprisonment for circumcising a young girl without her parent’s consent. The Daily Nation reported that when she was offered mitigation she responded that “the court could do what it wished with her.”
Women have had to deal with gender violence at every corner, and in this case even perpetrate it. A seven year sentence does nothing to punish those who refuse to apologize. This is one of the more recent a reminders that gender violence is still very much prevalent in our society. That though our legal system might make admirable stipulations in dealing with gender violence as a crime, it can do little to effectively execute justice. Why? We’re already working with a flawed system.
You know the posters on the streets of Nairobi, you’ve seen them. “Don’t be the next rape victim.”
As many as eight out of ten Kenyan women have experienced physical violence and/or abuse during childhood. A report from Kenya’s national commission on human rights in 2006 found that a girl or woman is, like the poster says, raped every 30 minutes.
However, there’s a problem with this line of thinking because it’s not addressing the real issue. Society loves telling women not to get raped, this is easier and considerably less effective than starting the conversation with telling men not to rape women.
Women have been shouldering the brunt of their sexual offenders crimes because society has accepted rape as a normal response, society has cultured us to believe that a man is hardwired to rape, that this behavior is uncorrectable, and therefore the man’s responsibility for the act is dismissible, as he is only acting on natural instincts. Society believes that rape is like rain; natural, unstoppable, unhindered, and what’s the rain to blame if you weren’t already equipped with an umbrella?
Men tell women to be careful, women tell each other to be careful. Dress appropriately, don’t walk home alone. Be careful.
Arming women won’t stop rape. Telling women not to walk outside at night won’t stop rape. Telling women to do everything in their power to avoid sexual attack won’t stop rape – it will stop individuals getting raped, but it will not stop rape happening to our peers, and rape happening to other people, because rape is still a societal epidemic, and prevention is a temporary solution that will never be better than a cure.
Kenya Police investigations into rape often start with leading, indelicate questions to the victim, casually dismissive of the trauma. The victim of the Busia rape case was asked what she was wearing, and in dealing with the physical, irreparable damage done to her, was asked to repeat the event to police men several times, without anything actually being done. Law enforcement’s natural attitude towards women who have been raped is skepticism, and an uncomfortable reluctance to carry out justice. What were you wearing? What did you do to provoke your attacker? Victims are not only first received with clear skepticism, have their cases second-guessed, but they also have to deal with very real judgment about their personal behavior, and how their vulnerability, and inability to shield against rape was a complicit invitation for rape.
The message of this poster, as with typical outreaches to rape victims and women, is that it is a woman’s burden to prevent rape, rather than on men not to rape. The truth is that rape is not committed by some faceless transgressor; a lot of cases are domestic and are as likely to come from people you trust as from strangers. We need to understand that rapists don’t wear their crimes on their faces, they don’t have a uniform, they are walking among us, allowed anonymity in the crowd, and reasonable doubt when they come from someone within the family. God help you if your rapist is a respected family member.
Three of the people involved in the Busia rape case were pupils, in school. Not grown men, not hardened criminals leaping out of some foreign nightmare. These were boys from school’s near the victim’s own. What does it say about our society that young boys like this thought their actions were at all permissible? What mindset do we operate in that allowed them to even think of getting away with gang rape and attempted murder? It is disgusting. When police came to arrest the boys, teachers asked if the arrests could be postponed so the boys could take part in exams. Ridiculous, you think? This request was granted!
Rape cases did drop sharply once the Sexual Offences Act was introduced, however rape victims still don’t come forward because they rightfully don’t trust the police’s ability/willingness to investigate, and they are still fearful of the stigma associated with coming forward as a rape victim. Who can blame them? Strict punishments for rape have done little to minimize the rape culture prevalent in Kenya, but this is in part because of our dismissive society, and our rather ineffective police commission whose indifference was illustrated with the Busia rape case where when the rapists were identified, the police response was to round these boys up, put pangas in their hands and give them an afternoon of cutting grass. The fact that this case was only investigated three months after it occurred (and only after the efforts of Busia Police Commander, Halima Mohamed), and after an online internet poll is sad indeed.
Not all hope is lost though, for the Kenyan people are rising up, fighting and demanding justice for rape victims. When women and youth activists marched to the offices of Inspector General David Kimaiyo demanding justice for the Busia rape victim, they were told by the Inspector General that there was considerable doubt about the “girl’s version of the story”, and that there might not be evidence to charge the boys because Liz delayed in her testimony, disclosing the rape late after her condition deteriorated.
Delays! Is there anything more illustrative of delays in justice than the issue of the P3 form? The procedure for rape cases determines that the rape victim must first get a form from the police, then take it to a hospital and have it filled out by the doctor assigned to examine them. This long trail of paper work often means that victims are delayed treatment, and in most cases the process of acquiring these forms means that the cataloging of evidence takes place too late; when crucial evidence has been destroyed! Doctors just recently stopped charging KES 1,500 to fill the P3 form out, which had essentially been a barrier for rape victims (who had been responsible for paying this amount) to justice.
Police stations have women’s and children’s desks to deal with issues affecting them, however most of the police officers manning these desks haven’t been equipped with the gender responsive crime treatment training needed to treat the issues presented to them delicately, and do not know how to offer counselling, or referral when treating with victims of sexual and gender based violence. The funding required for handling these desks has been handed over, and instead channelled into other areas of policing. The program is embarrassingly underfunded and undermanned, which means that rape victims aren’t getting the care or the services they need, both in arresting their rapists, and in securing care.
Victims are fighting a tough battle, entrenched in a system that is willing to blame the victim or shunt them aside, and in a system that is unwilling to respond to their needs in a proper or timely manner. A system that more than often delays, very well knowing that justice delayed is justice denied.
Khadija Taib (K. A. ALI) is a student of journalism. She is currently working on a poetry anthology which will hopefully impart a rallying, positive and emboldening message to women of colour. Follow her on twitter @kaalisea