Despite it being more than two years since Vera* was sexually assaulted, the events that took place that fateful Sunday June 2017 still remains fresh on her mind.
For this 22 year old, it is a case of being raped by people he knew. It all began on the night of Saturday June 17, 2017.
Then, she was only 20 years and working as a bar attendant at a small local club in Nairobi’s Embakasi estate.
“Apparently the club owner was operating without a license and so when the police came calling at around 9pm, and being the only one on duty at the time, I was arrested,” she explains.
According to Vera, like other people in custody that night, they had to endure hours of being driven throughout the estate as the police made other arrests.
“By the time we reached at the police station it was past midnight. But just before I was booked in, my boss came to bail me out,” she says.
According to her, in his car, her boss came with two other men; her co-workers at the bar. “Before I left the bar, I was a little tipsy, so when I got into the car I slept because I thought I was safe being with the men I knew,” she says.
But she would be in for a rude awakening the next morning. “The next day, at around 8am, still in my boss’s car, I was woken up by his wife. “Amka uvae nguo unatuaibisha,” which translates to "wake up, you’re embarrassing us,” she said.
At first, she says, she didn’t understand why she was that harsh until she looked at herself.
“I was in the front seat of the car. My trouser was pulled down and the lower part of my body was naked. My hoodie top I had on was unzipped and my chest bare. I was feeling enormous pain on my head and back but I couldn’t remember what happened,” she explains.
So she ordered me to get at the back seat and dress up. “She locked me inside the car. Still it didn’t come to my mind that I had been sexually assaulted, until I wanted to urinate and I felt immense pain and also saw my urine mixed with blood,” she adds.
Later on her boss together with her co-workers who were with him the previous night would come back.
“My efforts to demand what had happened to me that previous night fell on deaf ears as no one talked about it. Instead, they insisted on taking me somewhere else to bathe then drop me home. I was tired, stinking, bloody and vomiting thus I desperately agreed,” she explains.
She didn’t know she was getting rid of the evidence. She threw away her panty, but still remained with my bloodied trousers.
Afterwards she was taken home of which she slept through the night before going to the hospital the next day, which was on a Monday.
“I went to Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital where it was confirmed that I was beaten up and raped, at least going by the vaginal bruises. I was put on medication,” she explains.
Unfortunately, the doctors couldn’t get any DNA that could link the perpetrators with the act, since all evidence had been gotten ridden of. “Besides, I was embarrassed of explaining the events prior to my assault, and thought people wouldn’t believe me,” she explains.
Sabia Mwinyi, nurse in charge of the Gender Based Violence recovery centre at The Coast General Hospital, says after sexual trauma experience it is important to prioritise your safety.
Sabia, who specialises in the clinical treatment of sexual violence survivors, says many survivors may be reluctant to pursue medical attention immediately after a sexual assault mainly due to the fear of being judged.
However, she insists that going to the hospital after being raped is important as the victim gets a chance to be treated physical injuries. “It also ensures your sexual and physical health,” she adds.
Lynnette Odidi, a consultant psychologist and a mental health advocate based in Kisumu says normally after an assault, most victims experience shock.
“Most sexual violence survivors experience depression and anxiety due to the issue of victims being blamed as well as circumstances leading to the incident.”
It is for this reason that Odidi insists on the importance of calling someone, probably a close friend. “Someone you could confide in without being judged, and have them keep you company,” she says.
The importance of talking about the assault, she says, is to help in the healing process. “Failure to seek help can have adverse effects on the victim like for instance, change of eating or sleeping habits, which in worst scenarios could lead to post traumatic stress disorder,” she adds.
But even as it is important to take precautions after being assaulted, Chris Yumba, projects and development officer for I am My Bodyguard, a Swiss based global foundation dedicated to training children and women skills to protect themselves against all types of violence, says, it would be even better for victims to gain knowledge about defensive measures to avert such a tragedy.
“There is need to use techniques that build psychological strength and self confidence in children at a young age. It is important to train children about self-defense skills like being assertive, using their voice and body language as a self-defense mechanism. Body language could be in the form of a firm handshake,” he says.
Being a gender based violence survivor herself, Eunice Nuna, project manager of I Am My Bodyguard here in Kenya, insists on the importance of fighting for personal space and self-confidence.
“This means being able to maintain eye contact, a tactic that most of the time intimidates the prospective perpetrator. Also, avoidance and awareness of your surroundings, as well as knowing your circle of trust, is important as it helps you sense dangerous situations and helps you avoid them before it actually happens,” she says.
Nuna who is also a psychologist says it is also important to understand the criminal mind-set. “Reading body language before conflict, understanding who to invite in your personal space and when,” she adds.
However, Yumba insists this does not disqualify the need for being aggressive and fighting. When it is necessary, he says, and the victim feels threatened as their life is in danger, then they have to fight back but in an intelligent manner.
“You have to identify the crucial points and where to attack and immobilise the attacker as quick as possible, so that you get a chance to run for safety. This could be the eyes and the groin areas, especially for men since they make up a huge percentage of perpetrators,” he explains.
These tactics, Yumba says, could help reduce the numbers of gender based violence cases, and in the process avert sexual trauma, unwanted pregnancies and sexual transmitted diseases including HIV.