“Sexual violence is not just a risky issue in terms of one getting infected with HIV or any other sexually transmitted infection, [but] victims normally feel ashamed – we live in a society where the victim is blamed and hence many would rather not report it either to the police or even to their families,” said Olga Masinde, a psychology lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
At Nairobi’s City Park Market, where she sells tea to hawkers, Njoki* treats the men she meets with caution. In April 2011, she was lured into a quiet area by a man who told her he wanted to buy tea but instead sexually molested her.
“He was a handcart puller; I knew him. He told me he wanted tea and I took it to him in an adjacent thicket,” Njoki told IRIN/PlusNews. “He didn’t buy the tea. He grabbed me and wrestled me to the ground. He then raped me and he said he would kill me if I said anything. I still see him.”
Njoki only told one close friend about the attack; she feared that if she told the police and other traders she would be blamed for following the man into the thicket.
“I didn’t want to go to the police because I couldn’t answer the many questions and I feared if other people knew, they would start saying, ‘why did you follow the man to the thicket?’ I just kept quiet,” she added.
While there have been calls to sensitize women on the need to report cases of sexual violence, Masinde says the sensitization should be directed at both the public and the police.
“Sensitizing women to report when they are raped is the easier part, but when you look at the reasons people give for not reporting, you realize more effort should be directed at sensitizing the wider community and the police on the need to accept that women are victims and not contributors to sexual violence,” she added.
The Kenya police has faced criticism from gender activists for its alleged failure to act on reported sexual violence; a 2009 studyby Kenya’s Institute of Economic Affairs reported that 72.6 percent of 51 respondents who survived gender violence and reported their cases to the police were not satisfied with the services they received.
Afraid of the dark
Emily Mueni, 24, works in a bar in downtown Nairobi, and often finishes work after midnight. With no staff transportation available, she has to walk to the nearest bus stop and wait, often alone, for a matatu – a public transportation minibus. “If you are not attacked in the city, you can be attacked even in the residential areas,” she said. “It has never happened to me – even if it happened, I can’t report it because the police will say I am a prostitute… all they ask is what you were doing out at that time.”
A 2010 study of women’s experiences in Nairobi’s slums by Amnesty International found that authorities had not addressed women’s calls for a greater police presence in the slums. The report found that many women were too afraid to visit toilets and bathrooms after dark.
“When police have come into the slums, rather than protect women, they have represented yet another threat to their security,” the authors reported. “Police officers themselves have been accused of raping women in slums, in particular during the post-election violence.”
But police officials say their services for gender-based violence are improving.
“I don’t think it is true that the police do not act when it comes to sexual and gender violence; we act when people report [cases]. But even those who report interfere with evidence by, for example, taking a shower before reporting, making it extremely hard to sustain such a cases in a court of law,” said Charles Owino, deputy police spokesman.
Fewer than 15 percent of gender violence cases reported to the police in 2010 made it to court.
He added that the police had mapped out and increased patrols in sexual violence “hotspots” and set up gender desks at police stations across the country.
“Maybe what people need to know is that they must report immediately such a thing happens,” Owino said.
Many women are also unaware of the health services they should seek – including HIV prevention, treatment for sexually transmitted infections and counselling – after a sexual attack.
Harriet first heard about post-exposure prophylaxis – a course of antiretroviral drugs administered within 72 hours of HIV exposure to prevent infection – a month after the attack.