One of the most challenging stories that I ever investigated, reported on and followed up to conclusion for the Daily Nation was on a sexual attack against a teenager who was gang-raped by six attackers and pushed into a disused pit latrine as the perpetrators fled into the dark night.
The story of Liz, the then 16-year-old pupil from Tingolo in Busia County, though sad, for me, ended as one of hope and inspiration in our society as we struggle to fight the monster that is sexual and gender violence against women and children in general.
The attack took place on the night of June 26, 2013, leaving the Standard Seven with an injured spine, wheelchair-bound and developed the worst case of obstetric fistula. The rape also left her with deep psychological injuries. She was attacked as she left her grandfather’s funeral wake a few kilometres from her village.
The DN 2 broke the story about three months later. The deeply traumatised Liz had just been admitted to the Gyno Care Medical Centre in Eldoret under the watch of the award- winning “fistula doctor” Hillary Mabeya, when I visited her in September of that year. She was an emotional wreck in a really sorry state with her desperate mother by her side. Liz had been rescued by a good Samaritan after some two public hospitals in a neighbouring county gave up on her. She had languished in one of the facilities which eventually asked her family to take her back home. They could not deal with the fistula.
After the Nation highlighted the girl’s story, human rights organisations took it up. As Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw) and Equality Now relentlessly followed it up with the police and the Judiciary as they also sought safety and protection of the minor and her family. The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet), through the global campaign network Avaaz, started an online petition demanding the arrest of the culprits.
The petition received about 2 million signatures from across the world. The petitioners demanded disciplinary action against the police who mishandled Liz’s case, as well as an end to gender and sexual violence. The story received attention from international media organisations.
The Nation Media Group was inundated with phone calls from local and international well-wishers seeking to offer of support to Liz and her family. NMG took up the initiative to galvanise the public to raise funds for Liz’s treatment and rehabilitation through the rallying call ‘Stand Up with Liz, Help Her Walk Again’. It also undertook to keep the story alive until her attackers were arrested and punished. Some have since been arrested and are serving time in jail while three ran away and their whereabouts are still unknown.
WHEELS OF JUSTICE
Initially, breaking the story to get justice was a huge challenge. Police and individuals who should have known better were in denial while others did their best to cover up, denouncing the story. As a senior journalist, this denunciation of a story I had broken and continued to follow up, disturbed me.
Eventually, the wheels of justice began to turn for the teenager. Then Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko intervened, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga gave his support to women’s rights organisations, who had taken up the matter on behalf of Liz’s humble family. The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights joined in seeking justice.
The family had received untold threats that forced them to hide Liz at a relative’s home after she left hospital. Mr Tobiko ensured she was put under the Witness Protection programme and the family eventually set up a new home in a different county. Although she now walks with a slight limp, Liz is a bubbly young woman, who is looking forward to fulfilling her dream of becoming the CEO of her own firm. She is still in secondary school.
Every day, the country wakes up to cases of defilement of children, rape and other forms of violence against women and the vulnerable in the society. We need to stop this trend, together.
Ms Rugene is a Consulting Editor Email: [email protected] Twitter @nrugene