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Kenya: Lack of justice for victims of sexual violence (Trust)

Ms. Ayaimba could not believe it. A man walked into her office and demanded that his daughter be returned to him. He had been arrested just two days previously for raping the three-year-old girl.

Ms. Ayaimba is a local government official in an impoverished Nairobi neighbourhood. According to medical reports, the three-year-old girl had a torn hymen, bite marks, bruising and cuts. But the police officer who had released the man and accompanied him to Ms. Ayaimba’s office insisted that the girl be returned to her father.

Ms. Ayaimba says, “How could I give the child back to the father who was raping the child day and night?” She adds, “An uncle of this man, who is a very senior government officer, came to me and told me: ‘If you don’t produce the child and drop this case, I will make sure that you are fired.’”

Government figures show that one in three Kenyan girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18. But, according to campaigners, many survivors of sexual violence in Kenya are denied justice as a result of an “epidemic” of corruption and intimidation.

Doctors, lawyers, police officers and community workers at a recent Nairobi seminar on sexual violence charged that the criminal justice system functions poorly.

Suspects try to bribe and threaten police, judges and survivors. Public ignorance, stigma and poverty are additional challenges. Poor families often bow to pressure to drop the case in return for a few banknotes.

One police officer says: “I have been threatened on several occasions. I have had some cases where the complainant disappeared mysteriously. [Two complainants] have been killed.” Kenya’s police investigators are overworked. Morale is low, and they lack the training and proper equipment required to collect and safely store evidence.

Edigah Kavulavu is a lawyer with the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists. He says: “People are not well informed about preservation of evidence. Also, [with] the taboo associated with rape, [many victims] will go and take a bath and … [thereby] destroy the evidence.” A forensics expert adds that sometimes crimes can only be solved by trying to match the DNA of a baby born to a victim of rape with DNA from the rapist.

Most victims of sexual violence are children, and most of the perpetrators are people they know. One doctor treated two sisters, aged six and seven, after they were raped. The doctor says: “[The perpetrator] paid a goat to the father and the case went away. Justice is never found, people are not prosecuted and the perpetrator is likely to repeat the same offence.” The doctor adds, “Some of [the survivors] are just afraid of going to the police. The family should be assisted to go to court and get the perpetrators prosecuted.”

But it is not easy to get justice, even for the courageous. Cases can drag on for years and survivors and witnesses run out of time, money and stamina. Prosecutors find it difficult to connect the survivors’ stories with poorly gathered evidence, or link the suspect with the assault.

A lawyer says that if the crime was badly investigated, and the evidence collected incorrectly, it is difficult to secure a conviction.

Ms. Ayaimba refused to hand the three-year-old rape victim back to her father. Two years later, the girl is safe and the case is in the courts.

Editors’ note: Ms. Ayaimba did not supply her full name to the investigating journalist.

To read the full article on which this story was based, What price the rape of a child? In Kenya, impunity can be bought with a goat, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20141111115659-zgoko

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