Rasna Warah: Our wounds may heal, but we’re still bleeding inside

NOW THAT A DEAL HAS been struck by the principal actors in the Kofi Annan-led negotiating team, it is time to focus our attention on those who lost their homes or were brutally attacked during the madness that engulfed Kenya in the weeks after the announcement of the 2007 election results.

Among this group of people are the women, girls, men and boys who were savagely raped during the mayhem.

This group deserves all the support it can get because while houses can be rebuilt, it is difficult to mend souls that have been damaged through an act of rape.

Anyone who has worked with rape victims knows that fear of other human beings is a common response among victims. The victims’ terror becomes such that although their bodies may heal, their minds threaten to implode. Thoughts of suicide are common among victims, as are feelings of extreme paranoia.

The poet, Marge Piercy, describes rape as being no different from “being pushed down a flight of cement steps, except that the wounds also bleed inside” or “going head first through a windshield except that afterwards you are afraid not of cars, but of half the human race”.

In a conflict situation, there are two groups of people who emerge to take advantage of the resulting lawlessness: arms dealers and smugglers.

In Africa, in particular, both groups have been known to engage in the illicit “blood diamonds” trade in places such as Sierra Leone.

But in Kenya, for some peculiar reason, the mayhem seems to have unleashed the rapists in our midst.

The stories of all the women, men, girls and boys raped in the post-election violence may never be told or reported, as many of the victims are probably too frightened to report the crime or too emotionally distraught to go through Kenya’s unresponsive medical, legal and judicial systems.

However, forensic scientists and investigators from the Crime Scene Investigators group claim that in the last two months, Kenya had more cases of rape than at any other time in its history.

The group claims that since December 30, the incidence of rape in the country nearly tripled.

In Nairobi alone, there were more than 500 reported cases, of which 60 per cent of the victims were minors under the age of 18 (the youngest victim was just nine months old!) and nearly 10 per cent were men.

A majority of the victims were gang raped.

Unicef claimed that the post-election conflict gave civilian men in the country “a licence to rape” like never before, a situation which it described as alarming, if not unprecedented.

ONE REPORT EVEN SUGGESTED that at least five women were being forcibly circumcised every week in some parts of the country. Meanwhile, in places such as Naivasha and Nakuru, women wearing trousers were being harassed.

Sexual abuse of girls within the camps for internally displaced people have also been reported. As if this was not bad enough, some children in the camps became victims of human traffickers, who lured the children, mostly teenage girls, out of the camps and offered them food in exchange for sex.

People have also been seen recruiting domestic workers at the camps, forcing the Red Cross in Nakuru to put up a sign that states that the camp is not a recruiting ground for cheap labour. Yet none of our political leaders, male or female, raised a word against these acts.

How does one explain the rising cases of gang rape, bizarre killings and mutilations that occurred, and are probably still occurring, in many parts of the country? And why are the victims mostly female? Has violence against women and girls in our society become institutionalised?

Perhaps we live in a society where violence, especially against women and girls, is considered “normal”. The issue of rape is not high on the political agenda of our leaders as they are more concerned about their own political and economic survival than the survival of the country’s people or the nation as a whole.

This has created a culture of impunity among our male youth who think that the only way they can assert their masculinity is through the cruelest form of violence — the rape of their own sisters and brothers.

The political and economic rape of our country manifests itself in the physical rape of our people.

As the new coalition government contemplates the way forward, I urge it to look seriously into the issue of why violence, including rape, is tolerated in our society, and to come up with concrete solutions to tackle the issue of gender-based violence once and for all.

There is no point in addressing issues of economic and political justice without addressing the deeply-entrenched institutionalised violence in our society that makes rape a lesser crime than say, a flawed election.

Ms Warah is an editor with the UN. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.

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