When Family Isn’t Safe: Assault in Kenya

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“She will never be healed”

Every day I wake up eager to prepare for my final exams next year at Daraja Academy. My cousin Grace doesn’t have it so easy. In addition to studying she has to attend court hearings for her father who sexually abused her for years.

Grace’s father, my uncle, who is ironically a theology professor and a church pastor, is facing trials for defiling Grace, his only daughter, since she was 8 years old. Grace is only fourteen and at a provincial school in Kenya.

"I started feeling uneasy and knew that it was not okay to experience this," she told me tearfully. "Every time I am at home, I find him beside my bed, a knife in his hands. I always feared whatever could happen if that knife was put to its intended use."

Bilha Akoth

She suffered emotionally, but tried hard to keep this from her mother who Grace is very close to. At school, she tries to be jovial but says there is a weird feeling inside her that keeps her thinking and daydreaming even in class. A teacher noticed this and approached her. It was hard for her to disclose what had been bothering her but eventually she opened up to the teacher.

"When he sleeps with me, he warns me not to tell anyone," she said, "and threatens to stab me if he hears any information about what is happening between me and him, from someone else." Grace has two younger brothers.

The teacher spoke with Grace’s mother and they came up with a plan to get solid evidence to convict him.

On a Monday morning, after Grace’s mother left for work and Grace’s brothers went to school, Grace found herself with her father again. He went ahead and did what he was used to – sleeping with her. Then he left for work. Grace called her mom and informed her. The mother told her daughter not to take a bath and directed her to a clinic for the two to meet up at. Tests were done and it was clear from the doctor’s statement that she had been sexually harassed. His case is pending in a court in Nairobi after being set free with a bond of 200,000 Kenyan shillings (about $224).

Every day, one out of ten girls is sexually harassed, and worse, often by their relatives, according to Homa-Bay Health Programme, an institute aimed at protecting young girls from being sexually harassed. Children of ages six and below are sexually harassed by human beasts everywhere especially by people infected with HIV/AIDS according to HHP.

Grace has to attend counseling sessions to help her emotions, which have been bruised for six years. The shame is if Grace’s abuser is convicted he will likely only spend 20 years in jail, the average for this crime. By this time Grace will be 34 years old, but she will never be healed.


"I asked him to leave, but he wouldn’t listen"

Back in 2010, a few weeks after I completed my primary school national exam that would allow me to attend high school, I visited my relatives Tom and Tessy.** Tessy is the lady with whom I am related and she is married to Tom. They seem to live happily and are blessed with sons and daughters who are much older than me.

That Sunday afternoon, with my friend Linda at my side, our visit started warmly with food and conversation. Before we knew it, it was 7:30 in the evening. Tom and Tessy insisted we spend the night. Even though my home wasn’t that far from where we were, the couple insisted we stay.

Just before dinner, I left Linda watching the soap opera "In the Name of Love" in the living room, so I could charge my cell phone in another room. The socket was quite low on the wall. As I was bending down to plug in the charger, I felt something terrible happen to me. Two large masculine arms surrounded my body. I tried to scream but his left hand held my mouth so tightly. I managed to turn around long enough to see that my attacker was Tom. He grabbed me a second time and handled me so indecently; I was not at all comfortable being there anymore.

I gathered courage and asked him to leave, but he wouldn’t listen. I prayed and crossed my fingers that nothing would happen beyond that. Luckily, we overheard Tessy calling me out at the dining table. He snuck out of the room and I managed to pull myself together to sit through dinner.

That night, I barely slept at all. I thought and imagined all sort of things. I couldn’t wait to get back home. I didn’t know who I could talk to about this so I stayed silent. Tom is a man my parents and family trust very much. I didn’t want to ruin my family’s relationship with him. However, I was never at ease with myself.

Eventually I decided to speak out, not to my mom or my friends, or Tessy, but to Tom. I first wrote him a letter that I handed to him myself. I then sent him an email and he didn’t respond for two weeks.

At long last, he responded. He apologized to me about his actions and regretted then. He confessed how bad he felt and acknowledged my bravery and wisdom. I found it difficult to trust him again until he came to my place and apologized to me verbally. I forgave him and appreciated that he had realized himself and had searched his heart. I have no idea whether he shared it with anyone, but today, Tom is the founder of a small organization that supports young girls who have been sexually harassed though counseling.

*The writer’s name is being withheld to protect her privacy. She is a student at Daraja Academy in Kenya.

**Subjects’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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