There is no distinct label on the door or signs that lead to the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) at the Makueni County Referral Hospital. It blends well with other buildings, and doctors say most people at the hospital rarely notice activities around the centre.
This is by design, as they do not want to attract unnecessary attention. The centre does not have many rooms, but it carries tales of people across all ages who have been victims of gender violence and had the courage to seek medical help.
Inside one of the rooms, a young girl of about five years clings to her mother who is whispering reassuringly into her ears.
The girl’s eyes are transfixed on the walls, and she sometimes takes her gaze to the many teddy bears that are in the children’s debriefing room.
Anne Mutindi, a counselor training at the hospital explains that the colourful room is where minors who have been abused are taken for psychological evaluation. It is there that counselors hope the paintings of their favourite cartoon characters will provide comfort and make them open up to the brutalities they have gone through – mostly in the hands of adults.
“People who have gone through abuse need a safe place where they can open up without having to worry about other patients staring at them,” says Dr Lugogo Athman, doctor at the centre.
It is the first GVRC to be set up in the country in a public hospital, and Dr Athman says it has been long time coming.
Ever since it was commissioned in January, he says they get an average of five people who have been abused daily. The centre was established in partnership with Nairobi Women’s Hospital after it was realised that Makueni and the neighbouring counties have high rates of gender violence but most of the victims never receive treatment.
Doreen Kitavi, a survivor of domestic violence recalls the day they argued with her husband and he pushed several times against the wall. She got a deep cut on her forehead and a nosebleed.
“I was in the hospital queue for close to two hours, with everyone who was passing asking what had happened. It was humiliating,” she says.
Victims of domestic violence, unlike other patients, go through a different procedure upon arriving at the hospital. When they get to the waiting area, they are met by ushers who have been trained to look out for physical and emotional signs of abuse.
Victims who have been identified are discretely approached and given a coded card and a nurse walks with them straight to the centre.
At the centre, their first point is a counselor and a doctor. The doctor does a physical test and if they are victims of sexual abuse, they are given medication to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. They are then taken for counseling and guided on how to seek legal help.
Victims of domestic violence are treated and booked for surgery immediately if needed.
They are sometimes taken to a safe place away from their present home if their situation is assessed and they are discovered to be at risk if they return home.
Dr Daniel Gichogo, the medical superintendent says their plan is to set up a rescue centre so that patients who are at risk are immediately settled.
Dr Athman says the centre reveals the reality of domestic violence and how almost everyone is vulnerable.
The saddest story he encountered recently, he says, is when an 80-year-old frail man was brought to the centre after being seriously assaulted by his grandson.
He says there are some cases that torment him, like the ones that involve patients who have been told over and over that it they deserve to be abused, that they do not press charges.
Makueni is one of the counties with a high prevalence of domestic violence. While launching the centre in January, Makueni Deputy Governor Adelina Mwau said in the last year, there have been 216 cases of gender based violence, with 39 per cent of school girls in Makueni saying they have been sexually abused.
The lowest cases of domestic violence against men and women are in North Eastern and Kilifi, according to the National Crime Research Centre on Gender Based Violence, but doctors say there is a possibility of the rates being higher but the people in those counties do not report.
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