Kenya: To Women Living in Slums, the Risk of Rape Is Ever Present

‘It happened on a Saturday morning at a “club” in the Sinai slum where I had spent the night with my lover,” the woman begins telling her story to the support group.

The following day he left very early and left me sleeping. I woke up at around 5am and was leaving the lodging when I was accosted by a man.

“Come here! I have been looking for a chance to talk to you for a long time but you have been snubbing me,” he barked.

I tried to look at his face but he kept avoiding my eyes.

“I’ve been looking at you but you don’t look at me. You don’t give me the time of day. Today I have got you,” a second man said, emerging from the shadows.

Before I knew it, the first man grabbed my hands from behind and started pushing me into a room.

“What is it?” I shouted. In response, one of them punched me in the face.

“Shut up or we will kill you,” the one gripping my hands said, whipping out a knife. “Will you be quiet or not?” Then he asked, “Are you going to undress or do we have to tear your clothes off.”

With the knife brushing against my throat, I had no choice but to co-operate, so I undressed.

For about an hour they sexually abused me. It was the most painful experience I had ever had. I switched off my mind, trying to block the pain. When they were done and had left, I picked myself up and walked out in a daze to my house in the same slum.

I boiled water and used a warm compress on my private parts, which were sore. I then washed up.

My husband wanted to know what had happened but I didn’t know what to tell him.

DOUBLE TRAGEDY

For the next week I survived on painkillers. I narrated my ordeal to only one of my close female friends. When she asked whether I had sought medical attention, I lied that I had, but deep inside I knew I couldn’t. As a married woman, I was ashamed and blamed myself for my predicament.

The following month, I missed my periods. I was worried since I had been using protection with my lover.

When I missed my periods for the second month, I went to a local clinic for a pregnancy test, which came back positive. It was a conception from the rape, and there was no way I was going to keep this baby, I told myself. I didn’t tell the doctor as much, but I told him I wanted to get rid of the pregnancy.

He told me to return with Sh2,000. Armed with Sh2,000 I had borrowed, I went back, and he gave me a tablet, which he said would cause me stomach pains, followed by bleeding, then all would be well.

After taking the tablet I had very painful cramps, but there was no bleeding. I went back the following day and he gave me another tablet, which had the same effect. When I returned a third time, he said there was nothing more he could do, and suggested I go to a more advanced medical facility for an “aspiration abortion”.

But upon hearing of failed attempts to abort, my friend told me to stop. “If it has refused to come out, I think you should leave it, lest it kill you,” she said.

With time, the pregnancy started to show. By then, the tension that had been building up between me and my husband, who knew the pregnancy was not his, reached breaking point. When I was four months pregnant, we parted ways.

At the Makadara Maternity Unit where I attended antenatal clinic, an HIV-test was not mandatory. Nor was it a rule at Pumwani Maternity Hospital where I delivered.

When my son was born, naturally, I breastfed him. But while he was chubby and healthy-looking I was getting slimmer by the day.

Then, when he was about a year and three months, he started getting sickly. He was always running a fever, accompanied by diarrhoea. By the time he was one-and-a-half years, it had become so severe that he developed anaemia, so he was referred to the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

After the third day at KNH, they stopped giving my baby medicine. During the ward rounds, the doctors and nurses would just come and talk in legal jargon around his cot and move on to the next bed. I was curious, so one morning when they left my son’s file on the headboard of his cot, I read it.

When I saw that he was HIV-positive, I broke out in a cold sweat. I could not breathe for a few minutes. So that’s why they had stopped treating my son and told me to go home and feed both of us well. I got such a severe headache that I was admitted to the adults’ ward.

We had been at KNH for a week, and my son had been discharged that morning. However, I sneaked out of the hospital, with no intention of returning.

SELF RELIANCE SKILLS

Back home, I did not talk to anybody for two days. My neighbours thought I had lost the baby so they came to condole with me.

On the third day I told them that I had come to fetch something and would return for the baby. But after a night of mourning and pondering, I came back to my senses and returned to the hospital for my baby.

But once back home I slid into a depression. Two months later, I came down with tuberculosis and diarrhoea. I went to Mbagathi Hospital, I was confirmed to be HIV-positive.

I was given a referral letter to get medicine from the Coptic Hospital for both of us, and took my baby to Lea Toto, a community-based outreach programme that helps HIV-positive children

I talked to my pastor, who had helped pay our hospital bills and had been catering for our needs, and he helped me buy my HIV medicine, which cost S,000. The baby got his Septrin free.

My son is now in Standard Seven. He is healthy and doing very well. I have since given birth to another child, who is HIV-negative.

I have joined an HIV support group, which helps the more vulnerable in society. We inform the area’s residents about what to do in the event of rape or defilement.

The groups, Africa Youth Trust, funded by ActionAid, and Wangu Kanja Foundation facilitate survivors of sexual violence’s access to medical, psychological, and legal aid, have also taught us self-reliance skills. The groups have also taught us how to make peanut butter, and I also sell bags made from recycled paper bags at Marikiti Market.

As women who have suffered the same fate, we look out for cases of sexual abuse so that we can advise and make follow-ups on behalf of victims.

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FYI

Barriers to tackling rape

Estimates indicate that one in three women has been raped, with most cases in the slums

Most victims don’t know what to do or where to go for help

Victims rarely ever get justice because the perpetrators pay off their families

The government has done little to improve security in the slums

ActionAid Chief Executive Officer Adriano Campolina listens keenly as A member of the Mukuru Woman Action Group, Eunice Akinyi, tells her story as the others listen keenly. The new Action CEO, Adriano Complina (in red shirt) attended the session. PHOTO | PAULINE KAIRU

SEEKING JUSTICE

Getting justice for victims no easy task

A report by Medecins San FrontiAres (MSF), an NGO that treats victims of sexual violence, contains disturbing figures of victims of sexual violence in Nairobi’s informal settlements.

MSF’s case reference report for 2015 indicates that new consultations and admission at its clinics reached 2,421.

It estimated that one in every three women has been sexually abused, with many cases taking place in the slums, according to the Family Health Option Kenya 2010 report.

Many victims do not get justice while others are left with permanent trauma and stigma. Inadequate policies to guard slum residents — they are regarded as a burden — exclusion from the city’s master plan and lack of good infrastructure continue to undermine the fight against sexual abuse.

As a result of increased sexual abuse and gender violence in their neighbourhood, 55 women in the Mukuru slums have formed Mukuru Women Action Group to help the victims.

Chairperson Hellen Okello says they move around the slums teaching women what to do if one falls victim to sexual abuse and educate victims on their legal rights.

She says most victims of rape, defilement, and as sodomy, which is on the rise, do not know what to do.

“We formed the group following an escalation in rape, defilement and gender violence cases. Some of our members are rape victims. We educate women and girls on what to do to avoid falling victim, what to do when something like that happens, and ensure the victims get justice by doing case follow-ups,” she explains.

FORGOTTEN LAND

“We meet with women from Mukuru kwa Njenga and Mukuru kwa Ruben — said to have the highest sex abuse related crimes), and give them tips like not to take a bath, and to report to a health facility within 72 hours of the incident,” she says.

The New ActionAid Chief Executive Officer Adriano Campolina, who visited the slum last month, applauded their efforts.

“It is very encouraging to see the efforts the women’s groups are putting to restore dignity by pursuing justice for the victims in the slums,” he said.

In a report titled Insecurity and Indignity: Women’s experiences in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya human rights group Amnesty International said women and girls in slums were afraid to visit the communal latrines for fear of being raped.

Young girls and boys, as well as women, continue to face the challenge of being raped or sodomised in their daily life as they seek food, water or even in search of a place to relieve themselves.

Amnesty criticised the lack of policing in informal settlements and the government’s failure to enforce planning laws and regulations.

The organisation’s East Africa researcher, Mr Godfrey Odongo, says,” There is a huge gap between what the government commits to do, and what is going on in the slums every day. Kenya’s national policies recognise the rights to sanitation and there are laws and standards in place. However, because of decades of failure to recognise slums and informal settlements, planning laws and regulations are not enforced in these areas.”

The report highlights sexual abuse and exploitation, especially defilement and rape, which continue to be among the most life-threatening crimes in Mukuru kwa Njenga slum.

Meanwhile information from the Wangu Kanja Foundation indicates that it receives reports about three cases of gender violence, mostly sexual abuse, every week. Young boys are also sodomised, and it is currently handling two cases that occurred this year.

But Ms Hellen Okello, chair of the Mukuru Women Action Group, says ignorance and want hinder their activism. “Poverty and injudiciousness make a mockery of the justice system because the perpetrators always win since they often settle the matter by paying off relatives of the victims. And lack of cooperation from the government to pursue the matter continues to provide an environment for the crime to thrive”.

Amnesty International has found that many sexual violence victims, especially from the slums, continue to suffer after being denied justice due to flawed investigations by the administration, or from the family members, who refuse to cooperate with the authorities.

“We urge the government and the families of the victims not to accept money as compensation. Failure to have the offender imprisoned only encourages the vice.”

Mr Peter Sila, the chief of Mukuru kwa Njenga slum, notes that many cases fail to see the light of the day due lack of cooperation by the victims’ families. Only a few cases make it to court, but most are thrown out after the complainant fails to appear in court.

About 60 per cent of Nairobi’s two million people live in slums, with limited access to water and sanitation.

Source: The Nation