?I was gang-raped and swept it under carpet, now I have HIV

Woman recounts ordeal as she walked home and was waylaid by five men. Statistics show 84.8pc of rape victims do not report cases to police. [iStockphoto]

It's been said that cases of gender-based violence spiked during the lockdown—but we just don't know the full extent.  

Within the first months of Kenya going into lockdown early last year, media was awash with cases of gender-based violence stories across the country. Reports indicated that cases of sexual violence had escalated following the measures introduced to prevent Covid-19 spread. 

At the time, Marjorie was jobless and she often walked long distances in search of menial jobs.

"It was the only way to survive," she tells me, from her sister's house in Umoja, where she currently stays. "I needed a job, any job, no matter how menial. I am a single mother with three mouths to feed."  

She was living in Korogocho then and often walked to Baba Dogo in search of work. On this particular day, she had landed a cleaning job that found her outside home after curfew hours.

Faced with a challenge of dodging the police on her way back home to avoid arrest, her best bet was to use alleys and hidden pathways. Little did she know that two men had been trailing her. They sandwiched her, leading her to a secluded and unfamiliar path. There, three more men joined them, and it was her against five men. 

"After I realised what was going on, I didn't have the guts to look at the men. I just lay there, defeated, sad and helpless. I went into auto-pilot. I was dazed, but I remember seeing figures waiting for their turn to rape me," Marjorie says with a distant look. 

After the ordeal, she somehow managed to pick herself up, and went home to her children. She locked herself in the bedroom and cried for hours into the night. Not once did it cross her mind that she needed to report the case to the police. "I couldn't process what had happened to me. Besides, I don't remember any details about the rapists. How then would the police have helped me?"  

She regretted every decision she believed might have led to the incident. She blamed herself for breaking the curfew rule and condemned herself for dropping out of school, which led her to seek menial jobs. She hated herself and the life she lived, and when the morning came, she swept everything under the rug, didn't tell a soul, and moved on with her life, albeit broken and desolate. 

According to a study published by the University of Nairobi, 84.8 per cent of rape victims do not report the cases to the police. Over half of those who report only do so because friends, family, and activists convince them to.  

"Once a rape case is reported to the police, the chances of the perpetrator being apprehended are high," an officer attached to Kariobangi North Police Station tells us.

He adds that most police stations have a gender desk where rape survivors can report GBV cases.

However, for Marjorie and other rape victims, it's not as easy as simply reporting to the police. According to Catherine Mailu, a counsellor at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness Kenya (CREAW Kenya), rape survivors fail to report for several reasons. These include disbelief, low access to police, fear of attack by the rapist, and lack of support from poorly trained police who harass and blame victims for the ordeals. 

Months later, Marjorie checked herself into a VCT and discovered she had contracted HIV. "They didn't even have the decency to use condoms," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. At this point, I asked Marjorie why she didn't go to the hospital after the rape incident, and whether she was aware of PrEP, a medicine people at risk of HIV take to prevent infection. At the time of the ordeal, she didn't know HIV could be prevented by drugs. 

Marjorie is now a volunteer with CREAW. She decided to share her story with a counsellor after one session where the organisation advised GBV victims to speak up and seek help. CREAW immediately assigned a counsellor to her, who has been debriefing and counselling her while following up on her healing journey. 

"Life has changed because now I need to take medicine to survive. I need to be careful about what I eat. I am in a much better place emotionally, but I still don't have a job," she says.

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