Dr Kizzie Shako is the only female police surgeon in the country. She is also the founder and director of VunjaKimya Foundation, a whistle blower organisation that creates awareness on sexual and physical assault, and child abuse in Kenya.
What does your job as a police surgeon involve?
My role as a forensic physician working with the police involves examination and documentation of the living injured on the Kenya Police medical report form (P3 form).
This includes people who have sustained injuries in road traffic accidents, occupational hazards, physical and sexual assaults of children and adults and children abuse.
I also examine sexual offence suspects and conduct mental status assessments of murder suspects to determine their fitness to stand trial. In this role, I work with police officers, prosecutors, judicial officers, patients, their families and even crime suspects.
What inspired you to pursue this career?
Growing up, I was intrigued by death, crime scenes and crime investigations. This influenced me to pursue medicine and later specialised in forensic pathology.
After school, I worked as a pathologist for three years at City Mortuary but along the way, I felt that pathology was not what I wanted to do. I therefore joined Police Surgery, which offered a different experience.
Here, I interact with living victims of assault and who are traumatised by their experiences. I later took up studies in the little known area of clinical forensic medicine that involves holistic approaches in management of cases of child, physical and sexual assault (these make up the bulk of my work) to ensure fairness in judicial outcomes.
How does being the only female police surgeon in the country influence your performance?
The role comes with enormous pressure and dizzying expectations. There are instances of sexual harassment that I have to deal with, which require mental strength to handle.
Listening to stirring stories from both victims and suspects of child abuse, physical and sexual assault is sometime emotionally draining.
I hope that my involvement in this job as a woman will one day influence policy formulation to make Kenya a safer place for everyone.
What major discoveries have you made about yourself as a police surgeon?
I have discovered that money is not the ultimate prize in any profession; genuine satisfaction stems from impacting lives positively.
After overcoming frustrations in my previous job and having established a successful career, I have discovered that I am a tolerant person with a strong fighting spirit.
I have also realised that taking up opportunities to learn within and outside your career boosts one both socially and professionally. Along the way, I have noted that there is a serious need for capacity building in this field to address some fundamental gaps.
Many young people are indecisive about career choices. What advice can you offer based on your own experiences?
I am living my dream of working in this field because I was resilient, passionate and inquisitive enough. Follow what your heart desires; never let anyone dissuade you. Put in the work and be willing to learn. Be prepared to fight for your dream knowing that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Always seize opportunities for growth.
What does VunjaKimya Foundation do?
Critical gaps exist in the society at various levels, such as the health care sector, the public, judiciary, police service, lawyers and prosecutors when it comes to investigation, prosecution and determination of cases of assault.
I created this platform to educate the society about basic risk factors that contribute to various acts of violence, the dynamics and driving forces behind intimate partner violence, sexual violence and child abuse.
We also shed light on various sections of Kenyan law, children’s rights, documentation processes as well as share information on medical personnel who can treat injuries sustained from assault.
What are the main challenges in this job?
Most victims get frustrated by the bureaucracy involved in the process. Being sent back and forth from one office to another is weary, especially for traumatised, tired and emotionally drained victims of assault.
Do you derive satisfaction from what you do?
It is fulfilling when my colleagues and I make sacrifices to help victims of violence, sexual assault and murder to find justice.
What would you say impedes justice for physical and sexual assault victims?
A major contributor to low conviction rates in criminal cases of this nature, including sexual offences, is critical knowledge gaps in the management of evidence.
This arises when the relevant professionals involved in the chain of evidence fail to collect the correct specimens or fail to document evidence appropriately.
All sectors involved in such investigations should have basic understanding of forensic principles. Both the victim and suspect of a sexual assault, for instance, are walking crime scenes, and ought to be treated as such.
Are there specific attributes that have enabled you to flourish in this role?
Yes. Dedication to the job is not an option. Sometimes I register between 70 and 100 cases per day.
Additionally, this area relies heavily on current published literature in the field and the dynamics of science and technology hence a need to be continuously updated on new knowledge. Of great importance also is that one has to be impartial and objective at all times.
What is a P3 form? Why it is important to obtain one?
This is a Kenya Medical Report Form which acts as evidence that a violent act was perpetrated against the complainant. The police surgeon or any other government doctor in a public medical facility fills a P3 form after verifying that the individual claiming to have been injured actually sustained an injury. This form is what is used as evidence in a lawsuit.
What are some frustrations in this job and how do you address them?
I work in a grossly understaffed and under equipped setup. The workload is enormous but I do my best given the circumstances.
I address this by continuously informing relevant professionals about the gaps and counter measures. I also liaise with organisations and individuals to aid in a multi-sectorial approach to management of victims. Regular debriefing is also necessary and I try to do so whenever possible.