The following is a short story based on true life events by our guest blogger Dr. CMK. She is based in Kisii.
The victim is a fourteen-year-old girl living with her HIV-positive mother. She has at least six other siblings that I am aware of; all of them young, none of them working. Her father has another family, and is separated from her mother. I believe that there was a history of marital abuse and violence. Her mother, Rael (not her real name) works in my office as a cleaner under an initiative we instituted to promote the socio-economic welfare of PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS).
On that fateful day, my office was hosting our local Member of Parliament and Members of the County Assembly. I was on a charm offensive, engaging our political leadership; seeking avenues for future collaboration with a view to promoting health service delivery in the district. At the end of the meeting, we served our guests lunch. However, the meeting had ended late, and it was heading to six by the time Rael left the office for home. Despite the late hour, she says, as was custom, she sent her 14-year old daughter to a nearby water point to fetch water for their evening meal.
According to the girl, on her way home from the river, she was waylaid by a local high school teacher. She found him waiting on the path, and as soon as she was within striking distance, he pounced. He pushed the bucket of water she was carrying on her head, and dragged her to a nearby bush where he proceeded to tear her clothes, and to rape her.
Fortunately, her brother, who was also on his way back home, came across the half-empty bucket lying on the path. He recognized it as belonging to their household and automatically suspected something was wrong. On stopping to investigate, he thought he heard some commotion in a nearby bush, and followed the sound. It is here that he discovered his sister being defiled by the teacher.
Immediately, he raised the alarm, but the teacher was fast and he begun to run. The boy gave chase and by good luck, caught up with him. From his account, he wrestled him and pinned him firmly to the ground. The victim meanwhile painfully made her way home. Just as she got home, another sibling who had heard the commotion and gone to investigate, came home to fetch their mother and to explain what had happened. To cut a long story short, following a dramatic stand-off between Rael, the suspect (and his mother!), a report was made at the Chief’s office, and the girl was transported to hospital for management.
I only came to learn about what had happened the following morning. Rael had made a report to the police station, but her daughter, being too traumatized, was unable to relate a comprehensible statement. The OCS requested for my help, and I obliged. She was later examined by another Senior Medical Officer at the sub-county hospital, and a P3 form was duly signed. Confident that the matter would now follow its natural legal course, I went home (it was the weekend), and more or less forgot about what had happened.
On Saturday morning, I received a stern call from my mother.
“Stop involving yourself with mambo mingi hapo Kisii!” Is the first thing she said.
Naturally I was alarmed. I asked her what was wrong. What I learnt subsequently served to make a very lasting impression on my mind about just how hard it can be victims of gender-based violence to find justice.
Apparently, the suspect’s relatives, having been informed that I was the victim’s mother’s employer (sigh, it’s tiring description I know), and that I had been seen at the station, decided to trace my relatives. On the surface, they appeared only interested in prevailing upon my blood and kin to persuade me to ‘drop the case’. An incredibly ridiculous position to take truly, because I had had nothing to do with ‘the case’ so to speak, save for rendering my professional services. But if it was ridiculous, it was also clever and cynical. Who better to intimidate a family into silence than the one who, in effect, controls their bread and butter?
I was also to learn that for Rael, I had provided convenient game as well. On facing increasing pressure from the community, she had opted to take cover behind me (without my knowledge!). She had in fact, told all the suspects’ intermediaries who approached her, that I had taken a very personal and invested interest in the matter. That I was the main obstacle to a mutual compromise. And that (drum roll) I had sworn to ‘fire’ her if she dropped the case. And so in this way, I was thrust into a heroic position of none of my doing.
Naturally, I was left in a dilemma. What to do? If I called Rael to confront her about these allegations, given the inherently unequal nature of our relationship – I am the boss, and she the cleaner at my office, I feared that I would play directly into the hands of the suspects relatives. Whatever courage Rael and her family might still have to continue in their pursuit for justice would doubtless break.
Also, as disconcerting as it was to have someone ‘use my name in vain’, I could not imagine that Rael had felt she had any real choice in the matter. For in truth, even though I was actually quite angry at her for reasons described above; I had to acknowledge that put in her position, I would probably have done the same. In her mind at least, it was okay to throw this live coal at me. I was after all, too far up in her estimation, for the suspect’s relatives threats to reach. I wish.
But I will tell you this. I was more than alarmed and frightened. The extent to which the suspect’s relatives had proven they were willing to go had the effect of sending my emotional and psychological system into shock. To actually go to the extent of confronting my relatives!? Warning me?! Threatening me?!
Sigh, what to say? I now quite keenly felt like a victim myself.
And it did not stop there. The next day, a Sunday, they went to see not just any relative, but my paternal grandmother. A formidable woman, but one also that I have a lot of natural respect and affection for. I can draw swords with just about anyone but her. She too now called me with pleas to ‘drop’ the case. Apparently, the suspect was a son of a cousin twice removed.
“Mjukuu, tafadhali tafadhali. Wacha hii maneno. Fanya kitu.”
The girl was a known prostitute (medical exam had shown a torn hymen); she was his girlfriend and they had disagreed, that’s why she was doing this to him; she was dim; she had a mental problem….
Constrained by respect, I listened, but could not challenge. I could not even tell her that I, in fact, had had no ‘maneno’ to give. That on the contrary, ‘maneno’ was being imposed on me. That, that…ngai fafa, hata sijui…
It was an impossible situation. I falsely promised that I would ‘try my best’. For her sake, and for no one else. She hung up, quite satisfied. I on the other hand, to say the very least, was left horrified at the extent to which I was being forcibly involved in such unpleasant business.
And as I said earlier, I was also quite scared. Kisii has a reputation for unprovoked violence. And now here I was, in the eye of the storm. My hysterical mother had warned me the night before that I risked personal attack. I had dismissed her – don’t we always dismiss our mothers? But why lie, I spent the entire weekend locked indoors, and wracked by vivid imaginings of arrows crashing through my window.
I still don’t know how I resisted the temptation to call Rael. At times, I sorely wanted to. If only to get myself out of what felt like a hot mess of none of my making – so terribly unfair! But I guess, in the end, my rather catholic upbringing, and a hyperactive conscience won out. I didn’t call.
But I am also ashamed to admit that I did little else: I did not call her in solidarity, or encourage her to stay strong; I did not call to reassure her of my support, or of the justice of her quest… In retrospect, I realize that locked as I was in self-absorbed pity of my own ‘victimhood’ (I know!), I hadn’t really stopped to think about how she, or the little girl were faring themselves. For that, I truly feel bad.
Well at least, the story has a happy ending. On Sunday, the night before the case was set to appear before court, Rael’s courage failed her. Under duress and sustained pressure, she had decided to go to the station to drop the case. I believe an informal mediation meeting, and a small exchange of money took place. However, when they got to the station, the OCS would hear nothing of it. Further, he informed the OCPD, who then informed Rael that the matter was not in her power to decide. That the course of law would proceed regardless.
The OCPD, a charming if formidable woman, became the fourteen year old’s champion for justice. She even became my champion. With her heroic entry, my own stature and influence in the case became roughly equivalent to a small omena in a sea of whales. What a relief! To that extent, I take much pleasure in stating that, because of the OCPD’s principled stand at the very last minute, (a) the case had it’s day in court, (b) the suspect was forced to raise bail of KShs. 130,000.00 – a pretty penny by Kisii standards! (c) the case goes on.
Rael’s conviction for justice for her child was strengthened. She is now more determined than ever to see the case to its logical legal conclusion. If you speak to her about the matter now, you get the sense that she takes great pride in the fact that people stronger than her, mightier than her, have been taken to account on her daughter’s behalf. So much so that they have even been forced to pay KShs. 130,000.00! This sum, so incomprehensibly princely in her mind, has emboldened her. Given her back a sense of her own humanity’s worth, and that of her children. She is a strong woman, and I have much admiration for her.
Her fourteen year old girl meanwhile, keeps well given the circumstances. And I am glad.
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