NAIROBI, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Ayaimba could not believe it when the man walked into her office, two days after being arrested for raping his three-year-old daughter, and demanded she be returned to him.
A police officer who had released the man also insisted Ayaimba return the girl to him, despite medical reports that she had a torn hymen, bite marks around her nipples, bruising and cuts.
« How could I give the child back to the father who was raping the child day and night? » Ayaimba, a local government official in a Nairobi slum, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. She declined to give her full name.
« An uncle of this man, who is a very senior government officer, came to me and told me: ‘If you don’t produce the child and drop this case, I will make sure that you are fired’, » she said.
She refused. Two years later, the girl is safe and the case is in court.
Corruption and intimidation deny justice to many survivors of sexual violence in Kenya, which campaigners say has reached « epidemic » proportions. One in three Kenyan girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18, a 2012 government survey found.
Suspects try to bribe and threaten police, judges and survivors.
« I have been threatened on several occasions I have had some cases where the complainant disappeared mysteriously. I have had two of them who have been killed, » said one police officer.
Additional challenges come from ignorance, stigma and poverty among the public and a poorly functioning criminal justice system, said doctors, lawyers, police officers and community workers who attended a seminar on sexual violence in Nairobi. Some of them did not want to be named.
« People are not well informed about preservation of evidence, » said Edigah Kavulavu, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists in Kenya.
« Also the taboo associated with rape, you find that she will go and take a bath and then destroy the evidence. »
Children, who make up the majority of sexual violence cases in Kenyan hospitals, are usually assaulted by people they know. Poor families often submit to pressure to drop the case in return for a few banknotes.
A doctor who treated two sisters, aged six and seven, for fistula — with faeces leaking from their vaginas — after rape said: « They paid a goat to the father and the case went away. »
« You feel bad… Justice is never found, people are not prosecuted and the perpetrator is likely to repeat the same offence. »
For those with the courage to seek justice, the journey is not easy. Cases can drag on for years as survivors and witnesses run out of time, money and stamina.
Poor investigations make it hard for prosecutors to connect the survivor’s story with evidence linking the suspect to the assault, such as seminal fluid, or skin particles from a struggle.
« If the evidence was not properly collected, there is no miracle that can happen at a later stage, » said one lawyer.
Around 70 percent of the forensic work carried out in Kenya involves trying to match the DNA of babies born out of rape to alleged perpetrators, one forensics expert said.
Kenya’s police investigators are overworked and lack morale, training and equipment, such as gloves to collect evidence and brown paper bags in which to store it without breaking down DNA.
« You just dig down inside your own pocket because we ought to have been provided with such items but they are not there, » said one officer.
The judiciary, which has become stronger and more professional in recent years, is trying to play a greater role in guiding police investigations.
Still, tense relations between Kenya’s police and public must improve if Kenya is to end the impunity currently enjoyed by many rapists.
« Some of them (survivors) are just afraid of going to the police, » said the doctor who treated the two young sisters. « The family should be assisted to go to court and get the perpetrators prosecuted. »
(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Ros Russell)
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