NAIROBI (TrustLaw) – Increasing numbers of Kenyans are reporting sexual and physical abuse but just four percent press charges against their attackers due to social stigma and a lack of faith in the police and courts, a study said.
Nairobi’s Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), which provides free treatment to survivors of sexual and physical abuse in the Kenyan capital, said on Friday it had treated 2,954 patients between April 2011 and March 2012.
This is the highest number of patients the GVRC has received since it opened a decade ago. In the previous year, it treated 2,909 patients.
“It is a worrying trend that the numbers don’t go down,” said Wangechi Grace, GVRC’s executive director. “This is just a tip of the iceberg,” she said, adding that few people felt they were able to report abuses.
The youngest patient GVRC treated was a six-month-old girl who was raped by her stepfather and the oldest was a 65-year-old woman who was gang raped and died from her injuries.
The GVRC said 90 percent of the survivors it treated were female and 47 percent were children. It said 86 percent of the people it treated had experienced sexual violence and 75 percent knew their attacker. Eighteen percent of all rapes were gang rapes involving between 2 and 8 men.
IN THE FAMILY
The GVRC is widely considered to be Kenya’s leading source of data on sexual violence as it collects information from patients seeking medical care. Experts say its figures are more accurate than those of the police, who have received between 30 and 105 reports of rape a year since 2006.
Experts estimate that the GVRC’s 2,954 patients represent just 10 percent of attacks.
“People don’t report and sometimes they find it very difficult to report, particularly when it is in the family,” said Ahmed Hussein, director of children’s services in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development.
“They would rather keep it to themselves rather than many people knowing about it,” he told TrustLaw
Three-quarters of survivors were violated by someone they knew. The most common perpetrators of sexual violence were neighbours (23 percent); known but not named perpetrators (22 percent); friends (12 percent); relatives such as aunts, uncles and cousins (6 percent) and fathers (5 percent).
“Most persons fear either loss of family support or intimidation by family and neighbours,” GVRC’s Grace told TrustLaw. “So they just opt to live with it. It’s a very sad situation.”
She gave the example of a girl who reported that she had been raped by her father. But the mother denied it was happening.
“The mother said no, somebody’s framing her. They are trying to destroy their family,” Grace said.
The man went on to rape two more of his children.
Eventually, the government took the children into care. But they were later returned to the family home because of “a very high level of intimidation” from members of the affluent family, Grace said.
Children are often abused because they are easier to lure and intimidate. Some perpetrators also rape children because they cannot get pregnant and are unlikely to have sexually transmitted infections, GVRC said.
BREAKDOWN OF PARENTING
Experts believe that the rise in sexual violence against children is a reflection of urbanisation and social change in Kenya.
“It’s a challenge of rapid modernisation,” said Irene Nyamu, executive director of Childline Kenya, a free helpline for children to report abuse. “These were not common problems before.”
She said that Kenya’s “social fabric” is breaking down as parents and extended family members are spending less time monitoring and caring for their children. Many children are abducted and raped on their way to and from school because they are not accompanied by an adult.
“It’s a breakdown of our parenting responsibilities,” said Grace. “When a child comes home from school, they go to the neighbour’s place to watch a video, to play games and that’s where they are getting violated.”
In addition, there is little to deter perpetrators because they are rarely punished, unlike in the past when community elders meted out severe punishments.
Only four percent of GVRC’s 2011 – 2012 survivors pressed charges against their attackers. They said it was too expensive or a waste of time.
“Impunity reigns and when you have impunity, you have repeated cases,” said Claire McEvoy, an expert on violence against women. “There is clearly an attitude among some that sex is a right to be taken.”
One man she interviewed said: “Women were making sex expensive by seeking something in return. So a man might rape a child to enjoy himself.”
Three-quarters of GVRC’s patients were Nairobi residents. It is hard to get comparative figures for other parts of the country because there is no equivalent service provider.