Pause for a moment and think through this. You are out on an evening date and it is panning out well.
In familiar company over a cup of coffee or a nice slice of steak, you cannot imagine anything can go wrong. Then in a twist of fate, you wake up disoriented and after you recollect your thoughts, you remember the last sip of the wine you had, and the friend now turned stranger bearing his weight over you without your consent. The bulb, though dim lights, and you confirm the worst. Your date is raping you.
This is not fiction by any chance, because Wendy* (not her real name) has lived it. Her life story is testimony to the strength of a woman’s capacity for resilience and recovery. She was only six years old when her uncle abused her sexually. Then come 2017, hardly a month after celebrating her 27th birthday, she was date-raped by her boss. It is now nearly two years since the heinous attack in February last year, and her recovery journey is progressing well.
The young woman from Nyanza has refused to let the defilement and rape ordeal to define her destiny, and instead has chosen this experience as a tool to educate others who might have gone through the same.
Wendy has a passion to help other women and girls find solace and hope to start over after a rape ordeal. She teaches vulnerable girls and boys in primary and secondary schools about life skills.
“We talk to them about how to boost self-esteem, conflict resolution and basic human rights as a majority come from families that face gender-based violence” she says.
When she recently got a chance to set the stage for a team of HIV /Aids researchers and journalists under the umbrella of Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (Mesha) attending training on HIV biomedical prevention, she opened up for the first time about the incident that changed her perspective of life. The entire conference room at Sovereign Hotel in Kisumu Town went dead silent.
“The date rape was nasty. I had been a celibate for eight years, and this was taken away in the most degrading manner. I felt naked,” said Wendy, who is currently a community and media liaison coordinator with a foundation in Nyanza.
She says she was not aware her boss was developing an intimate interest in her all along.
“He invited me for an evening drink and I never suspected him as in the past we had dinner peacefully,” she recalls. However, on that fateful night, he introduced her to alcohol for the first time.
“After that glass of wine, the next thing I recall was finding myself naked with him. I couldn’t believe it and for a moment, thought I was having a nightmare. I had always looked at him as a respectable man. I never knew he had such evil plans against me,” she recalled, adding that the thought of him having sex with her disturbed her.
“I had met this man with different women. For him to have sex with me without a condom sent cold shivers down my spine. I quickly concluded he was HIV positive and wanted to infect me as he had nothing to lose. After the frightful ordeal, I started wondering where I would go to seek treatment as almost everybody knows me [in the town],” she said.
NOWHERE TO HIDE
Wendy is a common figure in the town as one of her many side hustles puts her in the limelight sometimes.
“My mind was now spinning with a thousand and one questions. How will I take care of my HIV status? How will I take care of my pregnancy — just in case? How will my single mother cope with this?”
She finally sought help from a close friend, who took her to a gender violence recovery centre. But more shock and pain were in store for her.
“The doctor at the healthcare did not understand date rape. He had to call five other medics to help him understand what a date rape is and I was embarrassed as one of the nurses knew me,” she recalled.
She had to endure further embarrassment as the attending doctors asked her whether she had reported the matter to police. Wendy revealed that she did not report the matter to police as she feared for her life, because the rapist is a powerful and influential man in a county in Nyanza.
“He is a filthy rich politician who is capable of harming me. I’m the only child of my poor mother and I knew I could not win any legal battle,” she said, adding that because some politicians are known to eliminate people standing in their way, she feared being eliminated. “I weighed my options and vowed to fight another day,” she adds.
“I’m 60 percent healed. Standing in public and narrating my ordeal means I’m almost attaining a clean bill of health,” she says.
BEAUTIFUL DARK-SKINNED GIRL
Wendy now works to highlight the rampant cases of rape in Nyanza, especially in Kisumu.
At least one rape or defilement case is reported daily in Kisumu County.
According to a report by Kisumu-based human rights lobby group, Transform Empowerment for Action, more than 1,208 children may have been defiled in Kisumu County in the last 15 months.
The incidents reportedly took place between January 2017 and March 2018 and some of the attackers were politicians, influential people and chiefs.
One of the chiefs was sentenced to 20 years in prison for repeatedly defiling a 14-year-old girl in Seme Sub-County in 2015, while another chief was charged before a Maseno court with attempted defilement and committing an indecent act with a 15-year-old girl.
Today, out of the experience she underwent, Wendy says that when a rape or defilement victim needs her attention, she abandons everything to attend to them.
“They might just want to narrate their ordeal, or need a shoulder to cry on. I fully understand how this simple act that many ignore is important to the life of a rape victim,” she said.
“One of our greatest failures in the 21st century as a nation may be that far too many children and women are sexually abused and raped daily and we can’t afford to help them, yet the offenders roam among us freely as if the crime they committed is stealing a village chicken,” Wendy said.
“Too often, we miss these chances to help, physically and psychologically-wounded girls and women out there who never get the help or treatment they need after the horrific ordeal, and are still hiding in shame.”
“I pay my coffee and dinner dates bills without blinking. I don’t depend on men or friends,” says Wendy, who likes hanging out with friends to eat fish.
Wendy says her plan is to venture into talk shows.
“I want to make good use of my natural public-speaking skills to reach more audiences and, in future, I will probably come up with my own foundation,” she says.
While she is not in a hurry to settle down, she says, her future husband must be born again.
In her efforts to fight new HIV infections among young people, Wendy periodically goes for HIV testing and shouts it in the social media.
“I want to sensitise young people, who are to at high risk, to know their status,” says Wendy, who adds that she has forgiven her tormentors.
TESTED IN A TOILET
Dr Kawango Agot, an HIV researcher, says that by openly speaking in the public, Wendy would make others who are suffering in silence to come out.
“Stigma is real. Healthcare staff are also stigmatised, but they rarely come out in the open. It’s easy as a health expert to talk about HIV/Aids or cancer-testing while on the other side of the fence but to get tested is another story. I commend Wendy* for her boldness.”
Dr Agot is a research scientist in HIV prevention at a Kisumu-based NGO, Impact Research and Development. Post-rape trauma, she says, causes the victim to blame herself for being involved with the perpetrators in the first place.
The researcher reveals that 10 years ago, she had discolouration in one of her ankles and was wrongly diagnosed with skin cancer, which is linked with the last stage of HIV, and had to be tested in a toilet at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as she feared to come out in the open.
“I was tested by Prof Elizabeth Bukusi while on my way to an international seminar in Senegal,” she recalls.
After several tests with different pathologists, she says, it turned out to be a non-cancerous infection, and she had no HIV infection.
RAPED AND FORCED TO DRINK RAW SEWAGE
For Queen* (not her real name), the rape ordeal of January 2018 in one of the estates on the outskirts of Nakuru town will disturb her for the rest of her life.
What happened to her is indescribable. She was whipped and clubbed in an abhorrent attack as she walked to school.
She was then dragged into a bush, where she was raped in turns by seven boys at knife-point for three hours.
“After they sexually assaulted me, one of the rapists grabbed the back of my neck and forced my head into a sewerage pond. I tried to spit it out and told him to stop, but he could hear none of my appeals,” she recalls as tears roll down her cheeks.
She said that she vomited but the merciless rapists continued to rape her repeatedly until she passed out.
“I was in terrible pain and I thought I was dead until I found myself in hospital,” recalls the 18-year-old girl who wants to become a lawyer after her secondary school education.
She says that what pains her most is that the case has dragged on for one year in court, while some of her attackers have never been arrested.
“The boys who attacked me are still roaming in the estate despite my father reporting to the nearby police post,” she says.
“Where is justice in this country? Why are police not arresting my attackers whom I identified in a parade? Is it because my parents are so poor that they cannot afford to buy justice? I feel so pained when I meet my attackers on my way to school.”
She adds: “I will study hard and become a lawyer and I will defend the poor in court until they get justice.”
I WAS SODOMISED BY MY HUSBAND
For Cynthia* (not her real name), the traumatic anal sex ordeal on her matrimonial bed was her worst nightmare come true.
The bestial details of the attack by her legally-wedded husband and the father of four are too graphic to publish. To date, Cynthia has never understood why her husband decided to do the unthinkable.
She was assaulted and subjected to humiliating and dehumanising acts in her bedroom. “It was disgusting to be violently attacked in a matrimonial bed,” she said.
“He is a vile, horrible husband. I was in great pain and exhausted by what he did to me. The attack in our bedroom is one thing I never imagined could happen to me. It seemed to last forever. I broke down and cried my heart out. I was naked and I remember walking to our children’s bedroom naked,” she recalls.
The man was sentenced to 10 years in prison and that ended their marriage.
“I feel the 10 years he was sent behind bars did no justice for me. He deserved to be jailed for life so that he will never do that to another woman. It is one of the worst violations a woman can undergo and I would not want to hear a similar case happen to another woman. To date, I am still disturbed by that beastly act.”
* The identities of the victims have been concealed to protect their privacy
MUCH MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO CURB SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Dr Ruth Aura Odhiambo of Egerton University Faculty of Law says despite Kenya committing itself to prevent and end sexual and gender-based violence by ratifying international conventions and declarations, statistics indicate the violence is on the rise.
“Violence against women is still rampant, and the question is: why and what needs to be done differently to ensure victims get justice? There is much more that needs to be done other than just having the law and policies in place.”
Key among strategies for fighting gender-based violence is public education and awareness raising, making the government more accountable through law of delict.
Others include provision of sufficient resources for sexual gender-based violence activities and programmes, legal literacy and effective enforcement mechanisms of the laws.