, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 21 – “I was tending to my potato farm in Limuru when someone attacked me. He hit me from the back and I partially lost consciousness. That’s when he started raping me. He did this about three or four times and when he was done he left. I couldn’t even scream or fight.”
These are the words of 60-year old Wanja (not her real name), a survivor of sexual based violence. The weather is gloomy on this particular day as I interview her…almost depressing; as if to complement the emotions going through her. She is a mother of 10 and hers is a sad affair.
She was raped for almost two hours by her attacker in October 2009.
Apart from me, her pastor, and the counselors at Nairobi Women’s Hospital, no one else knows about her ordeal- not even her family.
“I didn’t tell anyone about it, I was too ashamed and depressed. I couldn’t even carry my potatoes home. I just went and took a shower trying to wash away the shame. It was the pastor who advised me to go to the Nairobi Women’s hospital before 72 hours lapsed,” she says after one of her counseling sessions at the hospital.
As she shares her story, Wanja keeps fumbling with the frills on her scarf. Her eyes gaze to the ceiling and I can tell she is fighting back the tears.
Between April 2009 and March 2010, 85 percent of the 2,487 cases of gender based violence were rape and defilement reports. The oldest victim in this period was a 105 year-old grandmother who was raped by her 24 year-old neighbour. The youngest, an eight month-old-baby girl defiled by her own father.
“If someone rapes a baby or a grandmother what would you say they are lacking? What did he see in me? There are so many women out there who would gladly accept sexual relations with men. I am a mother with adult children yet he chose me. I felt like I was going to die. My entire body became numb,” she says.
Wanja poses for about a minute and it’s like her mind has gone back to the two hour humiliating experience.
As I am about to pause my recorder, she continues with her narration but this time her eyes are clouded with tears and her voice starts quivering.
“My attacker was a complete stranger…I have no idea whether he was carrying any diseases yet he raped me. Even you if your husband forces himself on you, you would feel very bad and would have no peace in your heart. It is worse when that person is unknown to you, she tells me and tears freely flow down her cheeks.
We take a break as she composes herself. I also have to hold back my own tears.
Almost three minutes later, Wanja tells me she has something to smile about. She did not get infected with HIV/AIDS or any sexually transmitted disease after her ordeal.
She says that although her family is still in the dark about it, she has found solace at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital where she has met other survivors of sexual violence including men. But that is a story for another day.
“Here I have been able to get comfort. There are women and men out there who are worse off. I’m glad no more damage was inflicted upon me. Children among them young boys are sodomised and I’m glad after all my tests I didn’t get HIV,” she says.
Wanja however doesn’t stop at that. She says no one is safe and raises serious concerns about the moral decadence of the Kenyan society.
“If a woman like me was raped during day time, then it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. Our society just needs to change; from the men to the women. If a man can rape a 105 year-old grandmother and a father defile his eight-month-old daughter, then tell me is it about failed security or is it about morals?” she wonders.
The mother of 10 also has kind words for the Nairobi Women’s Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre (GBVRC) whom she credits for taking her in for free and treating her. And although she is yet to gather the courage of going back to her farm Wanja believes she would be worse off it were not for GBVRC.
“I am the only one who knows what I went through and I wouldn’t ask the government to tighten security because that wouldn’t help. All I would ask for is financial assistance to the GBVRC. I didn’t pay a single cent for all the drugs they gave me and they continue counseling me and others for free. God knows I couldn’t afford it but help came. That is all I would ask for,” she says.
Every rape victim has to be tested for pregnancy, HIV and Hepatitis B as Nairobi Women’s Hospital Deputy Programs Manager Alberta Wambua explains. However this has to be within 72 hours.
“The Post Exposure Prophylaxis, which is used to prevent HIV infections, sometimes disturbs victims psychologically. Some ask why they need to take the medicine if they are HIV negative and it gets worse for the victims because of the mentality associated with HIV treatment. We however have to advise them to take this treatment as well as the follow-up treatment that needs to be done,” says Ms Wambua.
Although these drugs are too strong for the body, survivors have no choice but to take them.
“It’s not like you went out looking for AIDS or anything like that but you have to take the drugs for 60 days and it is not easy. I had to secretly take them every morning and evening without fail because I didn’t want people asking me why I was taking HIV drugs. I couldn’t eat anything and kept vomiting. At some point I started bleeding because of the drugs. But you know what, God is great and I’m okay now,” says Wanja.
She also admits that she never reported her case to the police and instead calls for well wishers to donate funds to the GBVRC.