1,133 is not just a number

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How nurses’ strike denied rape survivors crucial help in election period

31 October 2017 - 21:10

Nurses in Kenya’s public hospitals had been on strike for over 100 days when the first wave of violence hit the slums of Nairobi, Bungoma, Kisumu, Migori and Homa Bay in the aftermath of the August 8, 2017 elections.

General insecurity prevented a majority of violence survivors from accessing medical help even from private clinics. Sexual violence survivors are required to have a medical examination report from the police to enable them to pursue legal redress. Most private health facilities did not provide the essential emergency or extensive medical and forensic post-rape care that was needed.

In Nairobi’s Mathare slums, the P3 form -- a document that is supposed to be issued free of charge -- was being sold for Sh4,000. In rural Bungoma, one would need to pay up to Sh1,200 before they could collect the form for signature by a medical doctor.

Three women who reported suffering sexual violence in Nairobi slums said they were repeat victims, having been raped before during the post-2007 election violence.

Human rights organisations have documented at least 60 cases of sexual violence committed in the aftermath of the August 2017 elections, and the numbers keep rising by the day.

Agnes Odhiambo, lead sexual and gender based violence researcher at Human Rights Watch, says: “They (rape survivors) told me about rape, gang rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching and beatings on their genitals … Some survivors urgently need medical treatment and counselling … The victims do not trust the system.”

The survey focused on sexual violence in Mathare, Kisumu, Dandora, Bungoma, parts of Nyanza and western Kenya, and revealed that the victims mainly described perpetrators as police officers and men in uniform deployed to offer protection in their areas.

Militia and gang members were also accused of perpetrating sexual violence. Survivors told researchers that some of the attackers had beards, wore dreadlocks, and carried whips and guns, but were dressed in helmets and boots.

Women from the same community were raped in groups whereas in other cases children and husbands were forced to watch their mothers and wives being raped. Most women said that the police that raped them covered their faces. In Kisumu, a girl said that she and her friend were raped, resulting in the death of her friend. In Bungoma a perpetrator who was known to have committed the offence was arrested but later released.

Many survivors were unsure how to use the medication they received in health facilities. Some said that they were issued with red or green capsules, while others were unaware of what a post-rape care form was. Some survivors told the interviewers that they received post-rape medication for three to four days and were asked to go back after 28 days while others were not informed that they needed to go back for testing.

The survivors were distrustful of the police since in most cases the police were the perpetrators. They threatened the women by telling them that if they reported, they would come in the night to lock their men out and punish them.

Two women in Kisumu refused to be evacuated by the Kenya Red Cross Society as they did not know who they were and whom they were working for. Women in the area had reportedly been asked not to trust anyone not sent by the National Super Alliance (NASA), Kenya’s main opposition outfit.

The report says that in some instances, survivors were met with a negative response when they reported the attacks to the police. Some officers reportedly asked them: “Did you not enjoy the rape? Why not go to the hospital? Why come to us?”

Some survivors feel that it is a risk to expose themselves, as others have been abandoned by their families.

Four women went to hospital to report that they were sick and wanted to be tested for HIV.

Two male survivors of sexual violence were identified. A woman told interviewers that her boyfriend had been raped; while another lady said that her friend had been raped.

Several survivors suffered serious injuries and need medical treatment, counselling and psychosocial support. Survivors found that to have a P3 and Occurrence Book number one has to accuse someone and they did not know the perpetrators as they had covered their faces when raping them. In other cases the police were of assistance.

Most women also spoke of sexual violence incidences they suffered in 2008 over which no police officer has been prosecuted to date raising questions about the need for reporting attacks in 2017 when no action had been taken for close to 10 years.

Rape is a major challenge for women participating in politics. Most of the survivors said they fell victim because they voted and some said they would not be voting in the repeat presidential election on October 26, 2017. Two women burnt their Identification cards as a measure of their disgust for electoral politics.

The happenings, reflect a worrying pattern that was experienced in the 2007/2008 post-election violence. The Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence (Waki Commission) had documented at least 900 cases of sexual gender based violence (Waki Report).  This signals that there is a potential of increased incidences of SGBV in the aftermath of the October 26, 2017 repeat elections.

A day to the repeat presidential election, 20 non-governmental organizations called on the government to act to prevent police rape and offer support and care to survivors. In a letter addressed to the Cabinet Secretaries for Interior as well as Health, together with the Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet the organisations urged them to issue a public notice outlining what code of conduct should guide police officers during security operations, especially in the homes of civilians.

The organisations called on acting Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and Mr Boinnet to issue a written and public caution to all police officers to desist from committing any form of sexual violence or other crimes or violations in the conduct of their duties. They add that police commanders should be observant and take immediate, decisive action to intensify the security within affected communities.

In addition, they asked that swift and proactive action be taken to strongly condemn and investigate reported cases of sexual violence while supporting survivors to come forward and report cases in a secure, sensitive and timely manner.

The letter also pointed out that the nurses’ strike was likely to hamper the collection and documentation of medical forensic evidence, which is essential in supporting accountability. The organisations also asked the the Cabinet Secretary for health to ensure rape victims have access to medical care.

The letter urges the CS to effectively work with governors, county government health officials and other partners in affected areas and potential hotspots to put in place contingency measures.

The organisations also asked the health CS to issue a written and public notice reminding health providers and administrators that they are obligated to provide free medical treatment to survivors of sexual violence, which includes completion of Post-Rape Care and P3 medical forms.

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