Following the elections in late 2007, Kenya endured significant atrocities, including murder, ethnic cleansing, and rape. The media reported on hundreds of cases of sexualized violence during that time, and the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence confirmed the allegations. Today, years after that violent crisis, women are still seeking justice.
This is one of their stories.
In January 2008, during the violence that followed Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections, someone banged on my door.
The man was a friend of my neighbor and, since my neighbor wasn’t home, I thought I might be able to help. But when I opened the door, he forced his way into my house and raped me.
After the rape, I didn’t go to the hospital right away. Because of the pain, it was quite difficult to move. Instead, I went two days later, only to find the hospital closed. I decided to try the police station, but the officer in charge of taking statements wasn’t there. So, despite my efforts, I never attained justice for the criminal act I had painfully endured.
A hearing is scheduled for October 27 as part of a case against the Kenyan government for its failure in protecting people and properly investigating cases of sexualized violence that took place during the country’s post-election violence. My story is just one example of the countless cases of rape that occurred during such clashes in my country. It is also an example of the many hurdles a survivor must overcome in order to pursue justice. While I knew it was important to see a doctor, and I tried to get to the hospital and police station, neither institution had the proper infrastructure to ensure that I received justice.
The government of Kenya must take a keener interest in, and do a better job of responding to, the crisis of sexualized and gender-based violence, as both are daily occurrences in my country. Rape and sexual assault affect all people in our society. I know of men who have suffered sexualized violence and have now become alcoholics. I knew one man who even committed suicide. I met a girl, orphaned at a young age, who was raped by a police officer when she was only 5 years old. She now suffers from many mental health problems. It is not uncommon to see those meant to protect such survivors perpetrating the crimes against them. Such incidents harm not only individuals but also entire families and communities.
I currently run the community-based organization Grace Agenda, which provides holistic support to survivors of sexualized and gender-based violence. The organization was created in response to women being raped, becoming pregnant from the rapes, and eventually bearing those children. Most of the women we work with experienced sexualized violence during Kenya’s post-election period. Our initial goal was to protect their children from any potential abuse their parents may commit toward them in retaliation for the rape. Our goal was to achieve healing from group gatherings in which we shared stories and challenges, and devise solutions together. Now we also work to ensure that survivors’ cases get through the court system.
Organizations like Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) are working to tackle challenges in attaining justice for survivors. PHR is working in Kenya to train health professionals, lawyers, judges, and police officers on how to properly collect and document forensic evidence of sexualized violence. Health professionals are often vital first responders for survivors of rape, but few receive proper training in the collection and documentation of evidence. Because of my experience and background, PHR invited me to speak at a regional roundtable they hosted in Nairobi earlier this year about issues of sexualized violence. At this roundtable, I was able to share my experiences and my expertise with professionals who otherwise may not have taken a deeper look at the lives of survivors.
Many survivors who suffered during the post-election violence period in Kenya are still struggling to gain justice. As the case against the Kenyan government continues this month, we must remember that justice for survivors is necessary for both the well-being and healing of these individuals as well as our communities. Without adequate justice, the violence will linger, eating away at any chance of a safe and cohesive society.
This story was told to Simran Sachdev, the online communications coordinator at Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations.