The governmental inaction about the rape of a Kenyan teenager earlier this year continues to evoke outrage both in her home country and abroad. The teenager, identified earlier only as “Liz,” was brutally attacked by a group of men — some of whom she was familiar with — and thrown in a latrine. She was able to get out and reported the assault, but the men were let go after a "punishment" of cutting grass by the police department. Since, there have been global petitions calling for accountability, and the girl has gained powerful allies back in Kenya.
This attack was particularly shocking because of the gravity of injuries sustained by the teenager. She is currently confined to a wheelchair because the attack damaged her spinal cord. She also suffers from fistula, a condition that makes it impossible for her to control her bowels. Lydia Muthiani, the head of the Coalition on Violence Against Women — the group advocating for Liz’s rights — said that doctors are “hopeful” that she will regain her ability to walk. Meanwhile, Muthiani said, the teenager is dealing with psychological trauma from the assault.
But after the assault, local police simply told her mother to take the teenager to the hospital for pain killers.
As we reported earlier, Kenyan law — though imperfect — actually mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for sexual assault, and the government is required to pay for medical treatments for the survivor. But this is rarely put into practice, a fact Liz’s allies are trying hard to change.
Unfortunately, rape is not uncommon in Kenya. Nor is it simply common —it is prolific. A woman there is raped every 30 seconds — that’s an estimated 120 an hour. Sixty-eight percent of girls are estimated to be victims of forceful sex.
In Kenya, the Sexual Offenses Act (SOA) stipulates that the punishment for rape should be no fewer than 15 years in jail, and can go up to a life sentence. Surgery and counseling for the victim are paid for by the state. But somewhere in the process, a systemic breakdown appears to be occurring.
It may have something to do with the fact that the SOA in itself is highly problematic — female members of Parliament in Kenya even walked out during its debate. Marital rape, for example, isn’t criminalized. (There’s a blatant discrepancy in the country between thefive percent of men who say it’s acceptable and the (at least) 14 percent of Kenyan women who say they have experienced it.)
Perhaps worst of all, Section 38 criminalizes false allegations of sexual assault: If a woman’s allegations are determined to be false, she is given the same punishment as the alleged rapist would have been given for actually raping her. Such a clause hinders women from reporting assault — especially in a system that automatically disadvantages them.
Among the teen’s new allies is Kenya’s foreign minister, Amina Mohamed. “As a woman and a mother I am outraged and angered by this inhumane, traumatizing and inexcusable violation,” Mohamed said. And Willy Mutunga, the chief justice of Kenya’s supreme court, called for “immediate action” on the case. Despite this, and over 1 million signatures on an online petition calling for accountability, it’s not clear that the attackers will be brought to justice.
But most importantly, the teenager has her family on her side in a culture that heavily stigmatizes survivors of sexual assault. “I want those policemen that released the boys that they had in custody to arrest the parents of the boys who raped my granddaughter so that they can say where the boys are hiding," her grandmother told the Associated Press.