No justice for sexual assault victims in Kenya

On any given day, women in Kenya are facing thousands of different forms of sexual harassment and assaults. Reports of sexual assaults in Kenya have been on an alarming rise but unfortunately most sexual assault cases are never reported. 

In the recent years, Kenya has taken several measures to address some core forms of sexual violence. For instance, in 2006, the parliament passed the Sexual Offence Act which was intended to tackle the key gaps that the previous penal code did not fully cover in regards to sexual offences. Previously, the law was not clear enough on what exactly constituted of sexual harassment and violence. It also failed to recognize male victims and had lenient sentencing guidelines. There was also no management of medical treatment and court processes that focused on protecting the dignity of victims.

The problem arises when it comes to the implementation and delivery of justice between the police departments and the courts. 

The Kenyan courts have been facing different challenges in dealing with sexual violence cases. Analysis from the courts reveal that only less than a quarter of the offenders reported are convicted. This is disheartening to the victims as it means that most of them get denied the justice they deserve. It is also poses a danger to the society as it means these offenders are sent back to the community without even the tiniest slap on the wrist. 

The courts are quick to accuse the police department for the few convictions of sexual offenders citing poor investigations of such cases, lack of sufficient and corroborative evidence and inconclusive medical reports. According to a study done by Amnesty International in 2002, there is huge concern among victims of sexual offence cases and local women activists that these cases are subjected to less spirited police investigations compared to other crimes. This is one of the reasons why victims of sexual offences are less inclined to report such cases to the police as they lack confidence in their investigators and prosecutors.

 A perfect example of this is in regard to the 3500 sexual violence cases  reported during the post -election violence back in 2007. Up to now , the cases have not been addressed conclusively  yet it has been 12 years. These cases were investigated by the police and forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to scrutinize and advice on whether there was adequate evidence collected by the police. Unfortunately in 2012, the DPP returned 3100 cases to the police stating lack of evidence enough to secure a conviction in court. The cases were dropped and 88% of the victims were left to suffer a great sense of injustice because the police did a less than standard job in investigating their cases.

Another main reason why sexual offence victims don’t feel safe running to the police after being violated is because of the hostility and blame they receive directly from the police. Victims of sexual violence crimes find reporting their cases to be an exceedingly daunting task. First, there are very few police officers who are trained on how to specifically deal with the women who wish to report these cases. In 2003, the Government established the Gender Desk Program in each region of the country. This program was meant to have the dual purpose of adequately handling sensitive cases such as sexual violence and increasing the number of police women in the force. Regrettably, the program failed despondently due to lack of publicity and this has greatly hampered victims’ desires to find redress.

In most scenarios a woman will have to report a crime in a police station with no privacy whatsoever. It is traumatic to have to relive such a trauma with strangers listening in and police officers being apathetic .There have been cases where the police have openly ridiculed the victim and blamed her for the crime done to her. Mary*(not her real name) said she walked out of a police station more traumatized after the police officer she reported to said that if she had a man living with her then she would not have been raped . Mary was raped by intruders who broke into a house in the dead of the night. The police officer also went on to chastise her on her choice of a nightdress saying it was revealing!  .Such remarks leave victims who are already distressed more hurt, depressed and ashamed because they end up feeling it was their fault.

In other cases, police officers refuse to interfere with sexual violence crimes within the family. Police officers will perceive such crimes as ‘family issues’ and will send a victim back to the abuser to sort things out within the home. These victims end up feeling like there is nothing that can be done to help their situation and the perpetrators feel like they are above the law .This is mainly because only 12% of reported rapes results in convictions. The report also revealed that only 6% of rape victims report the matter to the police.

In addition, to report the crime, victims have to go through a long and complicated process. For starters they need to produce a police abstract, a P3 form and a medical report. To obtain a P3 form one is expected to pay for it even though it is not stated by the law. The worst part is that the police officers get to decide how much they will charge for the form. Majority of the victims end up unable to access justice simply because they cannot afford the form. The form also doesn’t allow for detailed information therefore it doesn’t give any details on the state of the victims’ wellbeing. It is also required to be filled by police officers who in turn have little training on handling such sensitive cases.

The victims also have a hard time obtaining a medical form owing to the fact that in each district there is only one doctor authorized to deal with sexual abuse cases. This means that only one doctor can examine the victim, fill out the medical form and attend the court cases. Victims have to wait for a long period before they can see the doctor and this ends up compromising evidence. The lack of enough hospitals and police posts in most regions of the country make it hard for the women to report these crimes .In some parts of the country victims have to walk  thousands of miles to arrive at a police post or hospital. 

The ideology of patriarchy which has been ingrained in us since childhood is another reason why victims fail to report sexual crimes. The sense of entitlement that leads men to think they have power over a woman`s body simply perpetrates sexual harassment and violence. It also trains women from a young age to believe that it is okay for men to mistreat or misuse them. These women are more likely never going to report such harassments or violent acts against them. . Patriarchy, with specific regard to sexual violence and reporting sexual violence to the police also affects male victims because it doesn’t allow them the chance to come forward. It has propagated the myth that boys and men cannot be raped.  Male victims are scared they will be considered weak or not ‘man enough’ if they speak up.

The capitalist structural conditions have also deeply laid the foundations for inequality between men and women. In truth, capitalism has only amplified gender oppression. Sex is sometimes dehumanized and considered a commodity and men are ranked by the number of transactions they can make. Capitalism has created the notion that sex is something that is gotten through bullying, assaulting, pestering and drugging. Therefore, people try to get as much sex as possible with or without consent. In some cases, the victims are drugged and can hardly remember what happened let alone file a case. In other cases, especially in relation to pimps ,the victims lives are in danger if they try to leave or get help .

Lastly, corruption has played a major role in deterring victims of sexual violence crimes in reporting to the relevant institutions. There have been rampant instances where perpetrators bribe law and medical officers to prevent the case from ever getting to court .In one shocking case, we witnessed how corruption led to a convicted paedophile opening up a children’s’ home in the country and sexually assault the girls under his care .There have also been cases where police officers have collaborated with the abusers to pass violent retribution to the victims who are brave enough to come forward.  Some police officers have also been accused of sexually abusing women even their female counterparts.

It is no wonder why public trust in the police force has deteriorated substantially and why victims would rather stay silent. There needs to be radical measures taken to create trust between the police officers and the public. Police officers need to be sensitized on how to handle such cases and encourage more victims to report such crimes. The police need to be keen to follow up evidence on these sexual violence cases and be vigorous in their investigations. The courts ought to pull up their socks and hand down verdicts in a timely manner as justice delayed is justice denied. It is important for the relevant officers to be transparent and sensitive to the plight of justice these victims seek.

The Kenyan government needs to come up with effective measures to ensure that justice is delivered to the victims of sexual violence crimes .The Gender Desk Program was a great idea but badly executed. If the Government can make sure such programs are well executed and well publicized then it might be easier to get justice. The Government should also follow –up on the police officers who do shoddy job in their investigations and penalize them. Lastly, there should be more campaigns empowering victims to speak up and fight for justice.

 

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