‘You can either be shot or be raped’.
Brave Kenyan woman recalls the terrifying moment carjackers gave her a horrific choice and how her attackers have never been caught.
- Wangu Kanja, 40, from Nairobi, was sexually assaulted in 2002
- Police refused to report the rape and recorded it as a ‘robbery’
- No evidence was gathered and her rapist has never been found
- Now an activist changing the way sexual assault is dealt with in Kenya
A Kenyan woman who was carjacked and raped has revealed how the horrific experience has inspired her to help other victims of sexual abuse.
Wangu Kanja, 40, from Nairobi, was attacked in 2002 and the man responsible has never been brought to justice thanks to Kenyan police’s lack of will and resources to carry out a full investigation.
Wangu told MailOnline it took her years to overcome her ordeal but she is now using what happened to her to help others. She is lobbying for change in the way sexual abuse is dealt with in Kenya, and offering support to victims through a foundation she has set up in her name.
The campaigner recalled how she was 27 years old when she was attacked after she was being driven home from her job at a tea company by a colleague. They were followed by another vehicle and carjacked by a group of men.
She said the men robbed her and her friend and one of the men then held her hostage while the others went to get money from the ATM using cards they had stolen.
She said: ‘They wanted to make sure we had given the correct PIN numbers before they let me go. I was left with one of the men waiting in a bush. He told me to undress. I kept saying “no” as I knew it wasn’t right.
‘Then he gave me a bullet to hold, he said I could choose to have that inside me or something else… I had to chose to be raped or killed, I chose to live.’
Following the sexual assault, Wangu was set free and went straight to the police in the hope her attacker would be punished for his crimes.
However, she said the police didn’t have the resources to take any DNA evidence from her that may have identified the perpetrator and she was so traumatised, she could not remember what he looked like to provide any information to help identify him.
The fact she had been raped was not deemed to be a serious crime and so her report of what happened was only logged as a robbery and carjacking. The culprits were never found so Wangu has never had justice.
She said: ‘The police turned me away. They didn’t want to know. I decided not to pursue it at the time as victims of rape in Kenya can be stigmatised and it can be very expensive to create a legal case. I knew of an Australian tourist who had been raped in Kenya and it took nine years for her case to be heard and I wasn’t ready to cope with that.’
It was years later that Wangu found the resolve to deal with what happened to her. The lack of evidence means she will never find her attacker but she is now campaigning to change the way sexual assault cases are dealt with in her country.
She has set up the Wangu Kanja Foundation, which is partnered by the charity ActionAid, to campaign for change and to give support to other victims.
Speaking of the changes that need to be made, she said: ‘The Sexual Offences Act is not enforced. There needs to be a special police unit to focus on sexual violence, at the moment they don’t have the resources and so other crimes take priority. They don’t have the means to take evidence from rape victims and in cases where there is evidence, it can take years to go to court and there are cases of corruption or women are threatened if they take a case to a trial.’
Alongside the bureaucratic and logistical problems, Wangu said the subject of sex and the rights of women in general need to be readdressed in her culture.
She said: ‘We need to create an environment where we can talk about sex openly. At the moment in Kenya no one talks about it, if the subject is raised there are giggles and people look down, it is not an easy topic to discuss. That needs to change.
‘It needs to be taught that a woman is not a sex object but a human being and she is to be respected.’
Even though by speaking out when she was raped didn’t lead to her attacker being held accountable, Wangu said other women should not be afraid to report sexual assault.
She also said they should not feel ashamed or that they are to blame. They should speak to someone about what happened to help them in order to deal with it psychologically. She said it took her many years to come to terms with what happened to her – and for years she refused to let anyone get close to her.
‘For ten years I vowed I would never have a relationship or have children because I didn’t want to bring them into a world that wasn’t safe,’ she said.’ But now after mentoring and counselling I have changed my view. I am still single but I am ready for a relationship now.’
She added: ‘Although I haven’t had justice, setting up the foundation has also helped me deal with what happened. I can change other people’s lives for the better and that gives me hope.’
Explaining the project she has set up in Nairobi, she said: ‘I understand how a person feels when they have been raped – the fear, rejection, shame and condemnation, so I know how important it is that survivors get comprehensive care and support.
‘My foundation has set up a helpline that women can call to report a rape. We then connect the woman to the healthcare workers and paralegals in their area who can accompany them to medical examinations and help submit the medical report (Post Rape Care form) to the police, which is needed to take the perpetrator to court.
‘Our legal advisors help follow the case through. We are going to scale this up, in partnership with Safaricom, one of Kenya’s biggest mobile-network providers, to include a text service that women can use to alert us of an attack.’
Wangu hopes this helpline can then become national so women across the country can get in touch.
The foundation can offer counselling to victims and allow them to talk about their experiences with others who know and understand what they have been through.
They also offer less traditional but effective treatments such as dance therapy classes.
Wangu said: ‘Our successes show what can be done with even a crumb of effort and funding.’
Wangu Kanja spoke about her work and experiences in London last night at ActionAid’s ‘Celebrating Fearless Women.’ To find out more and support the Fearless campaign by signing their petition to end violence against women, visit http://www.actionaid.org.uk/fearless.