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'They Always Protect One of Their Own': Police and Rape in Kenya

An accusation against an officer earlier this year was going to be ignored until a concerned citizen took out a half-page national newspaper advert to bring attention to the crime.
Armed police guard the Inspector General's office as women protest over the gang rape of a teenager in October 2013. Photo via AP

Police in southwest Kenya ignored accusations that one of their officers had raped a child, until a half-page advert in the country's most widely-read newspaper brought the crime to national attention.

"I am a citizen and wish to address you through the media regarding a 12-year-old who was sexually defiled in Kisii County by a police officer," read the advert on page 57 of the Daily Nation's January 29 edition, a week after the alleged attack.


"We reported the matter at the police station but [police] refused to allow statements to be recorded and have been protecting the officer."

The advert had the intended effect — Inspector General Joseph Boinnet, Kenya's most senior police officer, ordered an investigation, and Kenya's police watchdog, the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), also opened a inquiry. But would any action have been taken otherwise?

Activists, rape survivors and even the IPOA say there is a serious problem with police officers committing rape and sexual assault with near impunity — an issue which since the January advert has sparked growing anger as new cases have come to light.

The IPOA's current tally of investigations into rapes reportedly committed by police officers is six — a number IPOA spokesperson Rosemary Kamau says likely under-represents the prevalence with which members of the security services commit sexual assault.

"When a policeman is involved, the evidence is tampered with and rape cases are covered up," she said. "It really is a challenge on our part."

According to Kamau, of the six cases currently active, only one is making progress, because the other five victims are not willing to give evidence out of fear of reprisals.

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The lack of progress in these cases of alleged rape are just one element of a long history of corruption, abuse, and sexual violence committed by Kenyan police.


According to a report released in February by Human Rights Watch, hundreds of people were shot by police during widespread violence that followed the disputed 2007 presidential election. Hundreds of women were also raped and assaulted, and in 2009 a police taskforce submitted a list of 66 complaints of sexual and gender-based violence carried out by security officers to the director of public prosecutions (DPP). They recommended that all cases be closed — which the DPP disagreed with — but it is not known whether any prosecutions took place as no final report has been published. HRW also noted that information provided by the taskforce was unreliable, as it produced inconsistent data at different times.

According to Jaqueline Mutere, founder of Grace Agenda, an organization supporting victims of sexual violence, little progress has since been made on the issue of police officers' involvement in sexual crimes against women.

"The post-election [police-perpetrated] violence was downright impunity, knowing that the environment was ripe for abuse and non-accountability," she said. "Today, it's the same players in the same system."

Mutere says the problem of sexual violence committed by police officers is particularly pressing within police stations, with women raped in cells before being released without charge, after being picked up for petty crimes during nighttime "swoops."

"In other instances, they actually rape the women and girls while on patrol," she said.


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Last month, Kenyan radio station Capital FM publicized the story of 19-year-old Daisy Karimi, who said she had been repeatedly raped by two police officers over several years, with one carving his name into her thigh with a knife.

The teenager, who had two sons after being raped at ages 14 and 15, said she was first raped by the police officers when she was 16 years old.

She reported the rape at the station where the officers were based, but says she was offered 100 shillings ($1) to drop the complaint by the officer on duty. She says she then began receiving death threats from her alleged attackers.

When she still chose to pursue the matter, she says her statement, a doctor's report, and evidence from the scene vanished, causing the case to collapse. Then, while under witness protection, she says the two officers tracked her down and raped her again. No further police investigation was opened up.

She ended up in hospital in January this year after yet another sexual assault, allegedly by the same officers.

Her story has caused public outcry in Kenya, with the hashtag #justicefordaisy trending on social media in the country.

Officer accused in gang rape of 19 year-old Daisy turns guns on senior #JusticeForDaisy
— Capital FM Kenya (@CapitalFMKenya) April 4, 2016


But as Daisy's story continued to receive attention, the case of another young female victim of apparent police abuse emerged.

Twenty-five-year-old Mercy Nanjala died in March after she was held in a police cell overnight for allegedly stealing a friend's phone. Her family claim she walked into the police station perfectly healthy, but after police called them to pick her up, they found her lying unconscious on the floor of a cell in a pool of blood.

Mercy's mother Evaline Nafala told local newspaper The Standard that police made Mercy's sister wash the cell floor before she could take Mercy to hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

A post-mortem stated Mercy had no physical injuries, but the family have rejected those findings and claim Mercy was raped and beaten. Her death led to riots in the Nairobi slum where she had lived.

In another case, in October last year, a 26-year-old woman said she was raped by police officers in Nairobi. When she tried to record her statement at a police station she says an officer threatened her with imprisonment.

Similar claims of intimidation have also been reported with a couple claiming in February 2015 they were threatened with prosecution when they tried to report that a police inspector had raped their 13-year-old daughter.

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"The police always protect one of their own," said Dr Ruth Aura, of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), which has taken on Daisy's case. "I worked on one case of a rape victim who said when she went to the police station to report it, she was raped again by an officer."


The impact, she says, is that women are terrified of reporting rape cases involving police officers.

"They fear their cases will never be investigated and if women do not want to speak up there is little we can do," she said.

Wangu Kanja, a rape survivor who set up a foundation to support others, says the problem is a community that "condones and justifies any form of violence," including from police.

When Kanja was raped during an armed carjacking, she says police recorded the crime as robbery with violence, not rape.

"A person violated sexually is not a big deal because of culture and tradition. A woman is seen to be a lesser being," she said. "If you say you have been violated they will question you rather than the perpetrator. They think you are in the wrong not the other person."

According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 14 percent of women aged 15-49 have experienced sexual violence.

"I had a friend who said, 'I don't understand why you are making a big deal of it, it's just sex, move on.' It's a touchy subject and complicated," said Kanja.

"Most families, because of intimidation, won't follow up cases."

According to Kanja, police are trained in gender-based violence but fail to take the crime seriously. "We need a proper equipped unit that can handle it. Women need a safe environment to share their stories," she said.

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The IPOA's Kamau says outreach work with rape victims has shown that women are deterred from reporting the crime because of the lack of female officers available for them to speak to.

"They feel a policewoman would be easier to talk to as they find male officers are reluctant to listen," she said.

The IPOA has recommended that specific desks for reporting sexual abuse staffed by female officers should be established — but police stations have been slow to adopt the measure.

Meanwhile it falls on civil society initiatives such to fill the void. One such initiative is the 160 Girls Project, run by NGO Equality Effect, which seeks justice for thousands of women and girls in Kenya whose rape claims have been ignored by the authorities.

The project has launched a phone app that provides step-by-step advice so victims and their guardians know their rights and what to do if police fail to act.

Anne Ineri from the Equality Effect says change is underway, with one officer jailed for rape for 10 years in 2015, while cases are pending against several others.

"The commitment we have from the inspector general of police is to ensure professional investigation of defilement cases regardless of whether the perpetrator is a police officer of not," she said.

Follow Anna Dubuis on Twitter: @anadubuis

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