I’m a bit late on this story, though I unfortunately have a feeling that it’s going to be relevant for some time. Unsurprisingly, reports of rape in Kenya have skyrocketed in the past few weeks — more than doubled, though those figures don’t count the majority of rapes that go unreported, since they are obviously difficult to determine (trigger warning for all of these articles). Since the December 27th corrupt elections, violence throughout Kenya has reached epidemic proportions (the BBC has lots of helpful background on the different aspects that have been fueling the violence). And more than just your standard brutal rapes, both child rapes and gang rapes make up huge proportions of the sexual assaults. From the BBC:
Staff in the Nairobi Women’s Hospital – one of Kenya’s leading centres for the treatment of rape and sexual violence – say they have seen double the number of cases affecting women, teenagers and girls since January.
“Since the beginning of the month, we have had 140 cases of rape and defilement,” said Rahab Ngugi, patient services manager at the hospital.
“We were used to seeing an average of about four cases a day, now there is an average of between eight and 10.”
Almost half of the cases at the hospital’s specialised clinic are girls under the age of 18, Ms Ngugi said. One case was a two-year-old baby girl.
She knows that such a dramatic rise in numbers presenting at the clinic indicates that the reality beyond is far worse.
Only a small percentage of women actually come to receive medical treatment and counselling in the immediate aftermath of a sexual attack, she said. It means they do not get access to the drugs which might prevent the onset of HIV.
“It is the tip of the iceberg,” Ms Ngugi said. “At any time of unrest, of violence, or rioting, women and children are targeted. It is revenge, it is war. People are fighting and the weakest ones get abused.”
Due in part to the political unrest and the current lack of government control, those committing these atrocities are more or less raping with impunity. Estimates say that at least 250,000 people have been displaced, in addition to at least 600 people who have been killed, and around 85% of those who have been displaced are women and children.
This statement about the violence has upset me deeply:
Women’s position of relative weakness in society is emphasised in times of conflict, Kathleen Cravero, Director of the UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery said.
“Battles are fought on women’s bodies as much as on battlefields. It is not so much that women are targeted in some deliberate way but their vulnerability makes them easy targets for anger, for frustration, and for people wanting to cripple or paralyse other segments of the community in which they live.”
She says there is no evidence as yet that Kenya’s high levels of sexual violence are ethnically motivated rather than opportunistic and criminal.
Women and children are obviously not the only ones who are currently at risk of violence in Kenya. Men are being abused and killed as well. But almost the entirety of violence has been committed by adult men. And there is absolutely no possibility that the way the violence has played out is indeliberate. Targeting women and (primarily though not entirely female) children because they are perceived as being “weak” is targeting them directly. The fact that women and girls are facing sexual violence in addition to other violence is specific and purposeful. It’s not a weapon used against everyone equally. And it is a weapon that has been used as a tool of war for a large variety of reasons for more or less as far back as wars go.
Though knowing whether the sexual violence has been ethnically motivated or opportunistic is probably very important to know in terms of a resolution and fighting back, it doesn’t make a single ounce of difference when it comes to the question of whether or not women and children are being deliberately targeted. They are. If the violence is ethnically motivated, we’re talking about rape as a tool of war. If the violence is motivated by mere opportunity, we’re talking about a level of misogyny that presupposes that sexual violence is just fucking fine as long as there’s little chance of being caught.
What is probably saddest of all, though, is that the women and children who are being raped often go without the vital medical care required to properly recover from physical injuries and to lower the chance of HIV transmission (and obviously, you can just fucking forget about counseling). Though lack of access is probably one factor here, another is the tragic fact that for a lot of the adult victims of sexual violence, the gang rapes they have just suffered pale in comparison to their other problems:
Women often have other concerns that prevent them seeking help after an attack, said Hadley Muchela, a Nairobi-based rape counsellor with NGO Liverpool VCT.
“If there is a woman who probably saw her relatives killed, she might push her own issues of violence to the periphery.
“There will be worries about property and the death of children. Their immediate needs are temporary shelter, safety and food.”
He worries that although the gangs are not yet targeting makeshift, unregulated camps and shelters – in schools, churches and community centres – the women and their children sheltering there are increasingly vulnerable.
I don’t even know what to say to the concept of a world where receiving medical treatment after men have gang raped you is legitimately low on your list of priorities, and where gang rape is quite possibly not the worse thing to happen to you that week.
Donations to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital can be made here. The World YWCA is also accepting donations to assist in the response to the sexual violence, as is Kenya Red Cross, though there doesn’t seem to be a way to designate donations to a certain area of relief. Amazingly enough, I had trouble finding other organizations that are accepting donations for on the ground work. If you know of any, particularly grassroots/community organizations, let me know and I will gladly update the post with their information.