Ending a culture of rape

Women don’t get raped because they were drunk, were under the influence of drugs or were “inappropriately” dressed. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough, were in the wrong place or have “immoral” behaviour. Women get raped because someone raped them.

At least 86 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were either reported or documented in Nairobi during and after the run-up to the 2017 election. 86 percent of the sexual violence cases were perpetrated by police while 28 percent by civilians. The widespread sexual violence in Kenya’s 2017 elections was characterized by gang rape, mass rape, vaginal and anal rape, and penetration with objects. These were captured in separate reports compiled by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and Human Rights Watch. Rape in Kenya isn’t limited to the electioneering period. Cases of date rape, defilement of children by teachers and family members as well as sexual exploitation of needy populations are a common occurrence in Kenya today. With 1 in 5 women being a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, rape is an issue that requires national discourse.

No one is born a rapist. A number of factors can though turn one into a rapist. According to experts’ rape is strengthened by pornographic material, use of addictive substances, group support and social sanctions of good versus less good behaviour. It is these factors that can distort one’s thinking to not perceive rape as a violent crime but a mere sexual act, whether the other party consents or not. Our fight to end rape culture is characterised in educating women to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is to teach men not to rape, starting at the source. Perhaps it’s time we introduce rape in the dinner-table conversation.

We talk about crimes, war and discuss values with our children but we remain silent on the subject of sexual assault. This leaves our sons ill-prepared and with no guidance on how they should behave if one day they should find themselves in a group of boys with a girl in their power. Let’s teach our children that they are all equal. Let’s not favour boys over our girls or tolerate bullying or stereotyping. Let’s reject the notion that boys will be boys and girls must walk around this assumption or pay the price. Rapists perceive their victims as being weaker than them. Let’s raise responsible men who believe in equality across genders and respect women. Let’s raise men who would still respect a woman who objects their sexual advances.

The moment we nurture a sense of respect and equality among our children we begin to move towards the right direction in combating rape especially when it comes to peer pressure induced rape. A number of studies, on college campuses in the US, have shown that having friends who support violence against women is a big risk factor for committing sexual assault. The opposite is also true. Having male friends who object to violence against women can be a powerful tool against rape. One of the things that matter most to young men is the opinion of other men, it is thus very important for men who object to sexual violence to speak out when necessary to influence others positively.

Lastly, there is need to support survivor  of sexual violence in Kenya. Many survivors of sexual violence face stigma in their communities, in turn, making it difficult to speak openly or seek medical assistance. Most opt to suffer physical and psychological trauma in silence. Government laxity in supporting survivors of sexual violence, following past presidential elections, and unwillingness to investigate these crimes is a clear indication that the state authorities do not seem to care enough about sexual violence to take any adequate measures to protect Kenyans from it, or treat and support survivors. Failure by the State to address sexual violence during elections only increases the risk of repeat sexual violence in future presidential elections.

It is our opportunity to create true change. We owe it to our children to bring the conversation of rape into our homes in order to positively transform the male mindset at an early age, create a generation of male youths who respect women and will not be influenced to commit sexual violence due to peer pressure and create safe spaces where sexual violence survivors can speak out and get justice.


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