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Why curbing rise in sexual offences still an uphill task

Thursday June 18 2020
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A victim of sex abuse. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By KAMAU MAICHUHIE

As Kenya joins the world in marking International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict today, rape remains rampant in the country.

Statistics from various organisations show that rape is rampant in the country despite efforts by the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to eradicate it.

The World Data Atlas shows that in 2015, the rate of rape in Kenya was 1.9 cases per 100,000 population.

The Gender-Based Violence in Kenya report by the National Crime Research Centre released in 2014, shows Kilifi County recorded the highest rape rates in the country at 97.9 per cent compared to Samburu, which had the lowest rape rate of 7.9 per cent.

The top five rape rates came from the counties of Kilifi 97.9 per cent, Kisii (85.7 per cent), Machakos (71.4 per cent), Mombasa (66.7per cent) and Nairobi (64.9 per cent).

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 indicates 14 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men aged between 15-49 reported experiencing sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.

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Chief Justice David Maraga on April 2, lifted the lid on the rise in sexual offences since March 13, when the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kenya, saying, they constituted 35.8 per cent of all the recorded cases.

Kenya Female Advisory Organisation (Kefeado) figures show that many victims of sexual violence fail to get justice after reporting rape and defilement past the required 72 hours.

In April this year, out of 121 survivors of sexual violence in Kisumu County, only 72 reported within the 72 hours and 15 of them were issued with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

The remaining 106 did not get PEP because they did not report their abuse. PEP is a month-long course of drugs to help prevent HIV infection that is taken after a possible exposure to the virus.

Kefeado Executive Director Easter Okech says sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has largely been ignored, making it hard to be eradicated.

She says that to help slay the dragon of SGBV, gender-based recovery centres should be set up in all Level Three to Level Six hospitals across the country.

“These recovery centres ought to be one-stop shops where victims and survivors of sexual violence can seek help. They should, among others, entail counselling, health and police services to the victims,” she says.

With the establishment of the centres, Ms Okech says collection and storage of evidence, including specimens, will be easier, thus making investigations more solid and accurate, and in return ensuring justice for the victims.

Ms Okech adds that the centres will help deal with stigma, which is one of the reason why many women who are victims of sexual abuse fail to report their ordeal to the police.

“They also need to set aside a budget to help in the fight against SGBV, key among them rape. Police also need to be trained on how to handle matters pertaining to SGBV in order to minimise stigma,” she notes.

Delayed justice

Ms Wairimu Munyinyi-Wahome the Director of Coalition on Violence Against Women-Kenya says rape has increased since the Covid-19 pandemic was confirmed in the country.

From their analysis, she says, relatives, neighbours and unknown people were the majority perpetrators of rape.

She says delayed justice was the greatest challenge facing victims of rape and other sexual violence today.

To expedite the cases and enhance justice for the victims, Ms Munyinyi-Wahome says the Judiciary should consider establishing special courts to deal with SGBV cases.

Human rights violation

“SGBV related cases normally take between three and four years to be completed, which is a very long time. This needs to change since it’s a human rights violation. The special courts are the way to go, just as we have special courts on land, labour and corruption,” she says.

To help victims of sexual abuse, Ms Munyinyi-Wahome says her organisation has come up with hotline for girls and women in danger to seek help.

“We also have a scheme for pro bono lawyers who support and help victims to file cases in courts. We too have a team of counsellors who offer counselling and psycho-social support to the victims as well,” she adds.

Police have also been accused as leading perpetrators of sexual abuses.

Last year Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) report titled ‘Silhouettes of Brutality’ exposed police brutality as perpetrators of sexual violence especially during political unrest.

KNCHR observes the highest cases were in August 2017, with rape accounting for over 71 per cent of cases recorded.

The report focused on post-election violations largely experienced following the announcement of the first Presidential results on August 11, 2017, and the ensuing months prior to and after the rerun on October 26, 2017.

Ms Christine Alai, a human rights lawyer, says that data on sexual violence is difficult to find since there is no system in place to track the same.

Ms Alai adds that the biggest challenge is that the majority of cases are never reported to formal systems like hospitals, police stations and courts due to stigma.

“Because of the stigma associated with rape and other sexual abuses, many victims opt not to report.

‘‘We have a very huge population dying of trauma as a result of sexual abuse,” she says.

The lawyer says national policy by the government to change the mindset about sexual violence is another way to help tame the vice.

“The policy should, among other things, address change the mindset that rape is unacceptable and have an education system and syllabus that will help shift how we’re socialised,” she says.

Concrete data on rape and other forms of sexual violence in the country seems difficult to find. Efforts to get official data on rape and other forms of sexual violence from the Ministry of Public Service and Gender did not yield fruit.

However, the Cabinet Secretary, Prof Margaret Kobia, promised to issue a comment on the matter at a later date.

In 2014, the Reproductive and Maternal Health Services Unit under the Ministry of Health came up with National Guidelines on Management of Sexual Violence in Kenya.

These guidelines focus on provision of quality services that address survivors’ medical, psychosocial and legal needs.

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