When a medical student was raped on a bus in India’s capital, New Delhi in December last year, thousands were shaken out of their homes into the country’s major city streets to protest the heinous act that also sparked a wave of condemnation from across the world. The young woman nicknamed “India’s daughter” was brutally gang raped by four men on a bus that she and a male friend, who was also severely beaten, were travelling in after a movie. She later died from her injuries.
Gladys Mutua is Dandora’s daughter. A native of one of Nairobi’s most notorious slums, the 13-year-old was gang raped in January 2013. But no one beyond the steps of a neighbourhood based non - governmental organisation seems to care about her plight. Like the 23-year-old Indian medical student, Gladys’ attackers pounced on her as she travelled in a public vehicle.
Sitting on a plastic garden chair, hands clasped together and legs swaying with in child like restlessness, Gladys recalled how coming home after attending a concert one weekend, the man who instigated the attack grabbed her, then half beat, half dragged her out of a No. 42 matatu. The friends who sat with her managed to escape but as Gladys kicked and screamed for dear life, the other passengers crammed in the bus with her, were not moved. As the ringleader dragged her towards his house he instructed his friends to follow him. Gladys struggles to come up with even a rough estimate of how many people were involved in her rape, all she is sure of is that “they were many.”
Kuchotwa (gang rape), says Phyllis Mbeke a the programmes manager at a Dandora based ngo, Fortress of Hope Africa, is all the rage among a section of young men in Dandora. Unfortunately for many girls and young women it has become – like birth and death – a normal part of life.
“Gang rape is becoming the order of the day in Dandora” says Mbeke who is also following up Gladys’ case “It has been happening to so many of the girls who come to the centre but we did not realise that the words kuchotwa or kuchotana that the girls throw around so casually, are actually sheng for gang rape and that these girls had actually been raped or witnessed a rape,”
It is the casualness with which the girls view gang rape that worries Mbeke. The normalisation of the vice will see some victims visit the homes of perpetrators just a few days after their ordeal where they are raped repeatedly.
“Our organisation aims to empower girls by educating them on sexual and reproductive health. But after we discovered what the girls are going through we introduced the aspect of sexual and gender based violence into the curriculum to make them understand that kuchotwa is gang rape and any form of rape is wrong,” explains Mbeke
Fear has made it difficult to fight against the rising tide of rape cases. The girls are afraid to report the crime because the rapists are their neighbours or even friends of their brothers so they are easily bullied into silence. Families prefer to deal with the issue at home or they relocate from fear of reprisal from the gang of rapists or the accused vanishes when the crime is reported.
“By the time the girls open up to us it is months after the incident so the evidence is already gone. Like Gladys for example, I heard about what happened to her from other girls, and I had to go door to door to look for her so that we could follow up her case,” Says Mbeke
She adds that even when a victim finds the courage to speak up, the negative or lack of reaction from the community means that nothing is done to help her. “Gladys’ mother beat her when she found out and this is the reaction of very many parents. The authorities have also been a big letdown. Although the local chief takes every rape case seriously, getting a P3 from the police is an uphill struggle. We have been trying to get one for Gladys but the police say the person who handles rape cases is out so the test cannot be done. Her mother has agreed to follow up the case but she cannot camp at the station all her life, she has children to feed,” says Mbeke
Sixteen-year-old Carol walks in fear and is constantly looking over her shoulder. She was there when Gladys was grabbed and ever since she agreed to be a witness in her case, Carol has become a marked girl.
“One of the men involved was arrested for stealing a few weeks ago. Because I am testifying for Gladys, his gang has been saying I must be the one who sold him out and that they will also rape me for revenge.” Says Carol
Like a veteran Carol explains that most of the rapists are thugs who usually attack during jam (concerts) in town or as they leave the venue. Many girls are forced to marry one of their rapists or marry a thug for protection.“Girls sometimes marry thugs so that they can feel like nothing will happen to me because my husband is the biggest thug around,” she explained.
Maureen has been attacked three times by the same group of people in the past month alone although she managed to escape all three times. What has made her a target is the existence of a certain girl within her circle of friends who takes money from gangs to arrange for the rape of other girls.
“Our friends are being paid to sell us to these boys” she explains “The girl I know personally who does this has been raped many times so she wants to make sure that we also experience the same thing,” she explains.
“The boys who do this know it is wrong to rape that is why they go into hiding when they do it” she says angrily “Every rapist should be arrested and put in jail for life.”
“As an organisation we have had some successes in bringing these thugs to book. Last year we had at least six people arrested. We have organised campaigns in the community to inform people that kuchotwa is gang rape,” said Mbeke.
The organisation also provides a safe house, Tumaini, where girls who are facing any kind of abuse can seek refuge and receive counselling.
“The problem is that ours is still a small organisation so it is difficult to provide complete legal and psychological support for the girls. But what we cannot handle we refer to large organisations. This includes testing for sexually transmitted diseases because as of now we cannot do that here,” she says.
Mbeke says girls in Dandora need alternative spaces where they have fun and just be girls. The abuse girls’ face in the community everyday is stifling their creativity and their talents as they must constantly be on the lookout for the next attack.