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Teen's rape galvanizes support in Kenya

Posted: November 8, 2013 - 1:04am

TINGOLO, Kenya — A wave of outrage has grown in Kenya since word has spread that a 16-year-old girl was gang raped and thrown into a pit latrine in this western Kenyan town, with the alleged attackers told to cut grass at a police post, and then let go.

Nearly 1.4 million people have signed an online petition put up by the activist group Avaaz calling for prosecution of the young men and an investigation of the police who freed the suspects.

Kenya’s political heavyweights are also speaking up. Supreme Court Chief Justice Willy Mutunga last weekend said he had forwarded the matter to the National Council for Administration of Justice for “immediate action.” Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that “as a woman and a mother I am outraged and angered by this inhumane, traumatizing and inexcusable violation.”

The teen is currently confined to a wheelchair because of the physical trauma from the attack. She has undergone two surgeries — one for a fistula and another for her spine, said Lydia Muthiani, the deputy executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women, a group that has taken up the case.

“She is doing very well. They are hopeful she will walk again,” said Muthiani, who noted that the victim is still dealing with the psychological trauma of the rape and from time to time will shut down emotionally.

The attack happened in June but didn’t get wider attention until Nairobi’s Daily Nation newspaper wrote about it in early October.

Her mother spoke through tears at her home in Busia County. She told The Associated Press that the police at first said only that her daughter should be taken to a pharmacy and be prescribed pain killers.

Even if her physical and psychological trauma continues to heal, her life will forever be upended. Cultural traditions in this area mandate that a rape victim leave her home and move to another town where, in theory, people will not know that she has been raped.

Muthiani labeled rape an “invisible crime” in Kenya because it is underreported and rarely acted on judicially.

“We wouldn’t know how big a problem rape is in essence just because we do not have all the numbers of reported cases, but from the number of cases that we do receive, it is a very, very high number,” said Muthiani, who said studies have shown that one in six Kenyan women will experience some sort of sexual assault in their lifetime.

Muthiani said that one aid group that studied sexual violence during Kenya’s 2007-08 election violence found that at least 3,000 women were raped during the months of violence. Muthiani said there have been only 11 convictions related to those 3,000 cases.

“When you have a statistic that low, what are you inspiring the public to do? The institutions that are supposed to protect and serve us, for instance police and prosecutors, have to start doing a better job. We have to put it out there that there is going to be punishment for people who sexually violate other people,” she said.

Kenya’s inspector general of police, David Kimaiyo, has tweeted in support of the victim from his personal Twitter account. Kimaiyo said the investigation into the attack is complete and that the file has been forwarded to prosecutors to be acted on.

Alfred Ouma, the chairman of a local council of elders in Busia County, said he wants “severe action” taken against the officers who initially received the rape complaint and “mishandled it.”

The victim’s grandmother told AP from her small grass hut home that the attackers must be found.

“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,” the grandmother said.

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Associated Press reporter Andrew Njuguna contributed to this report. Straziuso reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

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