Judith Wavinya*, 30, was walking home on a cool August night in her neighborhood of Dandora in Nairobi, after spending the evening with her sister. She had to get back home to her three children and to prepare for the new day – she made a living hawking bananas in the neighborhood of Eastleigh and had to get up early the next morning to get to work.

Wavinya, who speaks with a small, faltering voice, tries to smile, but it does not quite erase the pain in her eyes. She looks away, scratches her short hair, dyed brown at the tips. When she leans forward, tears start streaming down her cheeks and she tugs nervously at her t-shirt.

Kenya: Sexual Violence Marred Elections

Widespread sexual violence marred Kenya’s 2017 elections. The Kenyan government should urgently take steps to protect women and girls, as well as men and boys, from sexual violence.

The rape had changed everything. “To be honest, I have nothing now. They finished me,” she says.

Wavinya is just one of many women and girls, along with some men and boys, who are victims of sexual violence during Kenya’s recent elections. Human Rights Watch spoke to about 70 survivors who said police, ordinary Kenyans, or militia groups raped them during the prolonged election period between August and October. Many of these crimes remain unreported and uninvestigated.

It was a normal night, Wavinya said, the familiar tight winding streets were dimly lit. She could see clearly, even though there was no moonlight. She felt mostly safe as people were walking around, many of them celebrating the announcement of the new president after the 2017 August elections. Then she came to a group of young men, two of them approached her menacingly. When she looked down, she could see that they had knives pointing towards her. They inched the knives close to her sides.

“I was scared, she says. “They told me to walk with them and I did. They asked me whether I knew them and where I lived. I recognized one of them, but I did not say anything. I could not.”

They walked to a secluded area. There were many rocks and trash littered the ground. No one seemed to be close by, although she could still hear the chatter of celebrations in the distance. The men asked her to take off her clothes and lie down on the rocks.

“I lay down and they raped me, anally and vaginally,” she says “They beat me badly and hurt my left ear. I was crying, but they did not stop.” Wavinya pauses and sobs quietly, shaking her head.

When they let her go, Wavinya said she walked slowly, painfully and spoke to some men who helped her get to a medical center. She got medical treatment and was advised to go to the police. By day break, she got to the police station to report the incident. Wavinya then went home to her children.

Frida Njeri (not her real name), 27, makes customer’s hair outside her home in one of the informal settlements in Nairobi, which were some of the hotspots of the election violence. She was raped by a man she said wore “combat trousers” in the presence of her 12-year-old son. Like many women Human Rights Watch interviewed, she did not report the sexual assault to the police because she did not know the attackers and feared retaliation. Many of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed described the perpetrators as mostly police officers or men in uniform who often carried guns, batons, tear gas canisters, whips, or wore helmets and other anti-riot gear. Some women who reported sexual violence were sent back to their homes without police taking statements, or they ridiculed them, verbally abused them, or failed to follow up on complaints. 

© 2017 Bonnie Katei for Human Rights Watch

Although she went to the police for help, she stopped following up on the case because she feared that her attackers might come back to hurt her. Also, she felt the police were not doing all they could to catch them. The man who raped her, after all, lives in the same neighborhood and is well known. “He walks around freely, but how can I go to the police and demand that they arrest him?” she wonders. “Why haven’t they arrested him already, yet I told them who he was?”

When the father of her children heard that she was raped, he told her that he would not support the children anymore because he felt she was now damaged. “Even my neighbors and friends point at me and call me names. They know I was raped. They laugh at me as if it was my fault.”

Many survivors of sexual violence who spoke to Human Rights Watch say they face stigma in their communities. It is difficult for them to speak openly when they are shunned by loved ones. Although some seek medical assistance, most opt to suffer physical and psychological trauma in silence.

Some survivors do not receive support when they seek help from authorities, and many of them feel that police are not doing enough to follow up on cases of sexual violence.

Frida Njeri (not her real name), 27, was raped by a man she said wore “combat trousers” in the presence of her 12-year-old son. Like many women Human Rights Watch interviewed, she did not report the sexual assault to the police because she did not know the attackers and feared retaliation. Many of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed described the perpetrators as mostly police officers or men in green uniform who often carried guns, batons, tear gas canisters, whips, or wore helmets and other anti-riot gear. Some women who reported sexual violence were sent back to their homes without police taking statements, or they ridiculed them, verbally abused them, or failed to follow up on complaints.

© 2017 Bonnie Katei for Human Rights Watch

Wavinya said she stopped going to Eastleigh for work because of the injuries she suffered. She depleted her savings and took a job cleaning tiles at a building company to put food on the table for her children. Her left ear still hurts from the beating. She feels pain when passing stool or urinating. Sometimes community workers put her in touch with NGOs who provide support. But it’s not enough.

Wavinya is struggling. She relives the incident daily, and it weighs on her during the night. “I am in pain all the time. I cannot sleep much, I worry about my children, how will I support them now? I keep thinking about what those men did to me. With all these thoughts, I stay up all night wondering about my future.”

Last year, Human Rights Watch documented government laxity in supporting survivors of sexual violence following Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence. So far, there has been little effort in prosecuting those cases of sexual violence. Once more, Kenyans have suffered sexual violence during the election period, and again, they are not receiving medical or psychological support. Police are unwilling to investigate these crimes, a clear indication that the state authorities do not seem to care enough about sexual violence to take any adequate measures to protect Kenyans from it, or treat and support survivors.

Wavinya’s main concern right now is her children. She worries they will not go back to school in January after the holidays, as she cannot afford the schools fees, and since she has no job and is still ailing. She wants to see her children do well in life, and it pains her that her rape has made it more difficult for them.

Like Wavinya, many women are counting on their government to help them heal from the pain of rape and to move on with their lives. It should not ignore them. “I want my children to do well,” Wavinya says. “That is why I fought for my justice and to get better. I want to take care of them and so that they have a good life.”

*name changed for her safety