• The pandemic has coincided with a rise in cases of sexual and gender-based violence
• An expert guides survivors through the process of getting medical, mental, legal help
A curious development since schools were closed in March has been the rise in teenage pregnancies. Many of them are raped by close relatives and acquaintances.
Reproductive health expert Jolly Mukangu explains that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) tends to increase during emergencies and epidemics. Since Covid-19 started, close to 5,000 rape cases have been recorded, with seven in 10 of the victims being below 18.
Mukangu says SGBV survivors should seek medical attention soonest possible due to the serious physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems that could arise.
“SGBV survivors should visit health facility within 72 hours of the occurrence of the incident,” Mukangu says.
“Health providers can administer antibiotics to prevent venereal diseases, post-exposure prophylactics (PEP) to prevent HIV and the ‘morning-after pill’ to prevent unwanted pregnancy.”
It may be too late to prevent some of these problems if you present later than 72 hours, but you can still be offered other aspects of post-rape care.
Medical attention is also useful if you want to report the assault to the police. If you choose to have evidence collected, special procedures are followed and must be done within 72 hours after the assault.
“You should seek medical attention wherever you feel most comfortable: family doctor, walk-in clinic, or a hospital-based sexual assault treatment centre,” Mukangu says.
Those with no complications should follow up with the clinic for advice on a plan of the routine visit, which can be done via telephone contact.
The Labour and Social Protection ministry found that one in six women and one in 15 men experienced sexual violence during their childhood. This includes coerced or forced sex and unwanted sexual touching.
With SGBV escalating, the Ministry of Health and partners in April developed the Covid-19 Reproductive and Maternal Health Guidelines. These give a case management of gender-based violence, including rape.
There are hotlines that are toll-free and can help a victim during this time.
When you call one of the rape crisis centres listed, you can expect to get: support from a counsellor on the 24-hour crisis line; crisis appointment with a counsellor; accompaniment to a civic hospital; and accompaniment to police services.
A large part of the service is dedicated to psychosocial support, via telecounselling, to help survivors manage traumatic experiences, an operator at national SGBV hotline 1195 told UN Women.
“We receive a lot of calls from people wanting to commit suicide,” the unnamed operator was quoted as saying by the Star, citing hopelessness after repeat violence.
What if rape leads to pregnancy? Mukangu says the survivors can be given adoption options for the baby. “If it's termination, the healthcare providers and the survivor should be aware of the constitutional provision about abortion.”
Article 26 (IV) of the Constitution of Kenya states that: Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.
While the focus tends to be on girls and women, the reality is that boys are also being abused. Mukangu acknowledges this truth and says they should also be handled with care.
“When counselling male survivors of sexual violence, counsellors need to be aware that men have the same physical and psychological responses to sexual violence as women,” she says.
Activists are rooting for the establishment of safe houses to accommodate the rising number of victims of SGBV. At the moment, only Makueni has a government-run safe house. Other counties are relying on NGOs, which are overwhelmed, as the Star reported.
“In most cases, we as service providers rely on community health workers and community rights activists, who will have information on the girl or boy who has undergone sexual and gender-based violence and fled or is being abused while quiet,” Mukangu says.
“These referrals enable us to access and help them.”
She urged counties to set aside rape crisis centres, hotlines, counselling and long open hours.
“There should also be public education with emphasis on the possibility of SGBV being perpetuated even by known persons or close relatives within lockdown confines during this period,” she says.