It took nearly four months to spark a reaction, but the shocking case of the attackers who walked free after savagely gang-raping a 16-year-old Kenyan schoolgirl is finally provoking a wave of outrage at the highest levels of Kenyan society.
The student, known by the pseudonym “Liz,” was severely injured in June when she was gang-raped by six young men and dumped bleeding into a pit latrine. Three of the alleged attackers were arrested, yet were quickly set free by local police. Their only punishment was to cut the grass at the police station.
The assault would have escaped notice if it weren’t for a determined campaign by a Kenyan sexual-violence clinic and a Nairobi newspaper. But now the case has generated shockwaves across the country, with a “Justice for Liz” campaign on Twitter and a global petition supported by nearly 1.2 million people demanding the arrest of the perpetrators.
Kenya’s top prosecutors and police officials, forced into action, have pledged to find the rapists and file charges against them. The names of three alleged attackers are known, but they are difficult to arrest because they are “in hiding,” the police say.
Liz is recovering in a hospital in the western Kenyan city of Eldoret, where she is being treated for a spinal injury and obstetric fistula, a severe injury that makes it difficult for her to control her bowels. She is reportedly confined to a wheelchair and is also being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My wish is to see justice done,” she told The Daily Nation, the Nairobi newspaper that revealed the story. “I want my attackers arrested and punished.”
Yet justice is mysteriously taking a long time. “It is disturbing that no suspects have been arrested,” said a statement by Winfred Lichuma, chairwoman of Kenya’s gender and equality commission.
“The explanation that they have gone underground is, at the very least, preposterous and reeks of a calculated move to scuttle the case,” she said.
Another Kenyan group, the Coalition on Violence Against Women, said the case is “yet another example of blatant impunity and repeated non-compliance by the police and other government authorities.” Rape and other crimes against women are consistently treated as “lesser crimes,” the group said.
At least 32 per cent of Kenyan girls have suffered sexual violence, and a girl or woman is raped every 30 minutes, according to government reports in recent years.
In a landmark case last May, more than 200 Kenyan girls won a court ruling that ordered the police to enforce the rape laws and take action against those who had raped them. The High Court in the town of Meru ruled that the police had created a “climate of impunity” by ignoring the sexual assaults on the girls – and sometimes by blaming the victims, humiliating them and demanding money from them.
Fiona Sampson, executive director of a Toronto-based group called The Equality Effect that supported the Kenyan girls in the Meru court case, said the delayed police response to Liz’s case was a violation of the High Court’s order.