Gang rape during the poll crisis

January 12, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 12 – She remembers vividly, like it was only yesterday. Her eyes wet with tears, her face red and her voice breaks with pain as she narrates, one year on, how she was raped by people she says may well have been security officers.

Ann (not her real name) lives at the Mashimoni area in one of Africa’s largest slums, Kibera.

She is seated on a stool outside her wooden house surrounded by curious neighbours who want to hear what she has to say to Capital News.

Ann is still uncomfortable talking about the incident in front of a large crowd and she asks that we go into her house for the purposes of privacy.

Once settled in her two roomed abode, she confides that she was also scared she may say something that would infuriate a number of people in the crowd and cause her to be attacked, again.

“It was after the presidential elections were announced that all hell broke loose. Youth were coming from Gatuikira to Laini Saba (other areas within Kibera) burning houses and others were looting,” she remembers.

Ann says someone must have called the General Service Unit (GSU) police officers to come and restore order because they came in a truck.

“By evening, things had not yet calmed down and the officers started a house-to-house search for the law breakers. They divided themselves into groups and three of them entered my house,” she goes on to say.

“When the first officer entered the house, he asked me whether I was hiding any of the youth and I told them I don’t even have a son; I just have a daughter who is 16 years old.”

She says a second officer told the first one to have (rape) her and he (the second one) could have the daughter, but Ann pleaded with them to spare her daughter.

“One of them told me that then I had to serve the three of them. So the first one fought me to the ground, raped me, then the second one did the same,” she says amidst sobs.

All this time, she says, her teenage daughter was hiding under the bed and could see everything that was happening. But the third one refused to participate.

“He told them that I am an elderly woman and they are hurting me, and he just left,” narrates the 45 year old.

“You know when you hear someone has been raped it’s just like a story but when it happens to you, you feel the pinch. They raped me with so much anger you would think I’m the one who was vying for the presidency,” she narrates.

Ann is not alone. Margaret (not her real name), a mother of seven, was also gang raped but hers occurred after the death of Melitus Were, the Embakasi legislator in late January 2008.

“The youth said that he had been killed. Some were calling themselves ‘Siafu’ and others ‘Masambili’. They torched houses, looted property and raped women. That was their mission,” a visibly shaken Margaret tells me.

Those are but a fraction of some of the sad stories that we have heard all year long, after Kenya’s worst yet post election violence.

The Nairobi Women’s Hospital received a record number of patients whom said they had been raped as a result of the poll crisis.

“We started receiving numbers in relation to the post election violence on December 27, 2007 and it went on until March 2008,” says Teresa Omondi, Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) Programs Manager.

“When it started, the numbers were a mix up. There are days that we would receive large numbers and others were fewer,” she goes on to say.

This, she illustrates, was due to lack of transportation and also unrest.  She adds that most of them may have been more worried about their children’s safety and food rather than seeking treatment.

She says the hospital, which has a bed capacity of 57, had to handle over 100 admissions per day not withstanding the overstretched financial and human resources.

“653 survivors were treated at the hospital, 2,812 were reached through medical camps, over 219 survivors were reached through partnerships and more than 180,000 survivors received psychosocial support,” according to the hospital’s quarterly report of January – March 2008.

Ms Omondi however says that not much progress has been made in terms of bringing the culprits to book because few of the survivors sought legal address.

“We have a few survivors who reported their cases to the police and we have our doctors who go to give testimony or evidence in court. Sadly the numbers are very few; the numbers of people who seek medical treatment is not commensurate to those who seek legal address,” she says.

She says this is because some of the survivors are not comfortable with the police, while others see the justice system as one that does not work and do not want to bother themselves with the legal proceedings once they have been treated.

The Programs Manager however says the centre gave its testimony to the Waki Commission that was probing the post election violence.

“There are a few women who came out to support that evidence and we can say that at least there are a few cases in court and others are still looking for the perpetrators. Though it’s a small percentage, at least this will ensure justice is done,” Ms Omondi says.

A 50 member police taskforce was formed in October to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual violence during the post election crisis. According to police spokesman Erick Kiraithe, nine cases have so far been finalised but two cases were thrown out.

He says a total of 50 cases in Rift Valley and 12 in Nairobi will also be followed up and could lead to prosecution.

“We believe that with time we are going to get more cases and the appeal we make to members of the public is that the situation being as it is, it is extremely hard to prove the cases without direct verbal evidence from people who witnessed the incidents,” Mr Kiraithe says.

“It would be much better if there were signs of struggle like a torn dress or bruises as this will serve to strengthen the case for the prosecution, especially in matters where the victim was not able to access a medical examination within 48 hours of the ordeal,” he adds.

“Where the victim totally kept it to themselves we have volunteers who are assisting them, so it is still necessary to come out and talk to the police officers who will offer some assistance,” he adds.

Mr Kiraithe dismisses women like Ann and Margaret who say they fear reporting to the police, as not being serious. He however does not completely exonerate the police force from accusations that they committed some of these offences.

“There are cases where the victims say it was security officers who committed the offences but we have not found any cause at this point in time to say that the rapes were committed by police officers. And the investigations have not yet been exhausted so that we can completely say there were no police officers involved,” he stresses.

But Ms Omondi expressed dissatisfaction with the taskforce saying that if it doesn’t visit facilities that treated rape survivors it will have failed in its mandate.

“What they did is write us a letter and asked us to give them names of the people who came to report here and that was quite unprofessional. It was not ethical,” she says.

“So what we requested them to do was to call us, we have a discussion and find another way of finding these survivors to come out voluntarily but there was no reply to that letter.”


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