Miriam Wangu Kanja, was heading home with friends one evening in December 2002, having come from a client’s office. She was working as a saleslady and the client offered her and a friend a ride home at night. But four gunmen confronted them and robbed them of their valuables. The thugs then put her in the back of the car and drove off, keeping her with them till late in the night as they robbed other motorists. Somewhere along the night the gangsters split, leaving one of them with Miriam in a deserted garage. The man had a loaded gun and he ordered her to take off her clothes. She pleaded for mercy but he ignored, and proceeded to wrestle her to the ground, brutally raping her at gunpoint until it was morning.
When she found her way to a police station, they advised her to record a statement of robbery with violence, with no inclusion of the sexual assault.
Miriam experienced immense psychological trauma following the incident. After receiving the necessary medical attention offered to rape victims, she went through depression for months because she had not received any form of counselling.
The stigma associated with rape could not let her to talk about her experience, except with close family and friends. As a result she resorted to heavy drinking. It was only after she received help at the Amani Counselling Center in Nairobi that she was able to cope.
Rape, is still considered a taboo topic in our society and, as a result, many victims choose to suffer in silence.
In collaboration with a group of friends, Miriam started the Wangu Kanja Foundation in 2006 to assist rape victims and to speak up against sexual violence. At the non-profit making foundation, they work with organisations such as Liverpool VCT, Kenyatta Hospital and Mbagathi Hospital to give assistance to women who have been sexually assaulted.
The foundation also assists women who choose to carry their babies to term after a rape incident. They counsel them and help them get a source of livelihood. Says she: “The biggest challenge is the silence of the victims, who view rape as shameful and refuse to open up.” She urges families of rape victims to be supportive and ensure the victims get intervention in good time.
“Victims need room for expression, and those around them should not try to cover things up and pretend it didn’t happen. In cases where the victim does not get the necessary psychosocial help, they may become potential perpetrators of violence, be it sexual or domestic,” she warns.
Who’s to blame?
Miriam says that coming out in public to talk about her experience was greeted sympathy, not empathy.
One of the biggest challenges her organisation is experiencing is that where children have been abused, parents take the easy way out by asking the culprits to pay through kangaroo courts because they cannot let it come out in public. Vip Ogola has been a victim of multiple rape incidences. She laments that rape is the only crime in which the victim gets blamed.
“If my car is stolen, it is the culprit who is to blame, but when I get raped, society looks for a way to blame me. People say “She got raped because of the way she was dressed or because she encouraged it” but little girls and old women are raped too,” she says. Vip says it is wrong that the culprits who indulge in rape will often excuse themselves, claiming that it was the woman’s fault. Says she: “For a long time I blamed myself, until I realised that those men did not respect my boundaries and it was their fault.”
Further, Vip says that during rape, it’s not just the sex that is traumatising but the words spoken by the perpetrators. “The rapist will often try to justify his actions to the victim while in the act. He will say that he is giving you what you asked for and that you are getting what you deserve. Yet rape is a crime of choice,” she explains. A report just released by Samuel M Muchoki and Simiyu Wandibba presents the confessions or testimonies of convicted rapists. Titled An Interplay of Individual Motivations and Socio cultural Factors Predisposing Men to Acts of Rape in Kenya, the report, which was published by the International Journal of Sexual Health, seeks to answer a question ‘Why do men rape?’. “I raped two strangers before I was arrested. The first woman wanted me to help her with shelter for the night. It is a long story, but at night I asked for sex and she refused. So I had to use force. I raped the second woman in the process of committing a robbery. I found her in the bedroom naked. Immediately, I got an erection, and I forgot everything I had come for. I forced her back on the bed,” narrates Kim, a 30 year old serial rapist sentenced to death. Samuel, a researcher and anthropologist says: “It came to my interest that, trying to curb the vice, we concentrate on the survivors who actually provide a lot of information on what happened. I decided to get into the minds of the sex offenders.” The research was drawn from three prisons, Kamiti, Naivasha and Nyeri with respondents being convicted rapists serving jail terms.
Personal and cultural reasons
And from the interviews, he was able to analyse data, coming out with these main predisposing factors for rape; individual motivation and socio cultural factors, or a combination of both. The individual motivational factors include drug consumption, marital problems as an excuse for rape, inability to negotiate for consensual sex and psychological factors like the influence of pornography.
Also cited were rape hallucinations, easy access to sex, and impersonal sex- we will see them deeply, shortly. The socio cultural factors included the view of rape as a sexual act rather than an act of violence, social attitude that the woman ‘invited’ the rape, early childhood environment, cultural practices, peer influence, and a lack of parental advice on sexual activities.
Up to 65 per cent of the respondents admitted to having been influenced by drugs, mostly bhang, while 51 per cent claimed to have been drunk. Patrick, a 34-year-old single man condemned to death, says he raped because he was drunk: “I raped a woman who was my workmate. I raped her after a disco. She was attractive, sexy, beautiful, and seductive. On that day, she was in a miniskirt which was tight on the body. Her lipstick was red ‘hot,’ and she was proud. I was stronger and more robust than her, so I overpowered her. I was drunk and did not know I was wronging her.”
And Dennis, a 44-yea-old married man convicted for defiling his 10 year old niece says he was high on bhang and chang’aa when he did it. The men said that drunken women, when helpless, are easy targets to rape. Steve, a 32-year-old married man charged with defilement of a five-year-old girl, committed the crime because his wife was having an extramarital affair: “My wife was having a relationship with a policeman. I had sex with her daughter when she (the wife) was absent.”
Effect of pornography And 25-year-old Isaac, charged with defiling a four year old, says that a woman he fellowshipped with trusted him enough to give him shelter. Then he was left in charge of five children, and he lured her four-year-old girl to the bedroom. Also cited is the psychological factor, where victims, mainly girls, come from poor families and are easily lured using favours such as food.
About 48.6 per cent of the respondents had been exposed to hardcore pornography, and had developed strong sexual fantasies. Others used impersonal sex to prove their manhood, forcing themselves on women they always admired and who had rejected them. The survey shows that the major enabling factor is the culture and society’s attitude to sex.
Michael, a 75-year-old single man charged with rape and manslaughter says; “Where I come from, we do not seduce women; we force them into sex and then marry them. I wanted her to become my wife. I sent my friends to go and entice her to come to my place. They brought her to my house. I had sex with her but did not realise that she was already pregnant. She died after the sex from excessive bleeding.”
And in his conclusion, Samuel notes that the gender imbalance, and how deeply a community believes in men’s superiority and entitlement to sex, greatly heralds the opportunity for sexual violence.