Pursuing Justice for the Most Vulnerable
When her young daughter was raped by a neighbour, Mwende took her to the Compassion centre. There, she knew she would find the support—and justice—her daughter needed.
08 Mar, 2016
Trigger warning: this contains content which may be confronting or distressing to some readers.
Night was falling when Mwende arrived home. Her thongs slapped against the dirt ground as she walked through the compound to her family’s mud-brick home. The house was dark; the compound quiet. Odd. Mwende frowned. “Anyone home?” she called out, uneasy. Her nine-year-old daughter, Koki, would normally have run up by now, chattering about her day. Where was she?
There was a strange noise—a cry—from the bushes outside. Mwende spun around, alarmed. She ran towards the sound. What she saw made her feel sick to her stomach. Koki stood amidst the thorny shrubs, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her clothes were torn and bloodstained. Gathering her shaking daughter in her arms, Mwende cried out. “How could anyone do such a thing to a child?”
In Kenya, nearly one in three girls experiences sexual violence before the age of 18. The crime is rarely reported due to social stigma and a lack of faith in the police. But Mwende was determined to seek help and justice.
She pulled Koki onto her back and, carrying her, set off at a run. With each step, Mwende focused on just one thing: getting to the Compassion centre her daughter attended. It didn’t matter that it was night time, or past the opening hours. “I was confident that someone at the Compassion centre would help us find a solution and direct us to the right people,” Mwende said.
Help they did. When something goes wrong. Compassion assisted children and their families have somewhere to turn for help. Shocked, the director from the Compassion Koki attends took her to hospital. On the way, Koki narrated her ordeal. How it was their 25-year-old neighbour who’d hurt her. How he’d abused and abandoned her in the thorny thicket. Koki’s father, Muli, struggled with his grief and anger. “I felt a lump in my throat,” he said. “I was angry, deeply hurt and betrayed by someone I had known and trusted.”
The next morning, Compassion staff and Koki’s parents took the doctor’s report to the police station. But the attacker’s family had been before them. The family had a strong influence in the community and convinced hospital staff to cover up that Koki had been raped. The officer refused to record Koki’s statement, despite the clear evidence of the attack. Later investigations would reveal police corruption.
Undeterred, the Compassion staff transferred Koki to a top women’s hospital in Nairobi, who upheld the initial doctor’s report. Partnering with a local organisation who offered free legal services for assaulted children, they filed a case with the police. An arrest warrant was issued against Koki’s attacker, who had fled.
But the pursuit of justice remained difficult. The accused’s relatives hurled insults at Koki’s family and even threatened harm if the charges weren’t dropped. Fearing for their safety, Muli gathered his family and left. “We stayed with relatives until the tempers cooled down before we could return,” Muli said.
Meanwhile, the attack had left Koki traumatised. She struggled to fall asleep and, when she did, woke up screaming from terrible nightmares. Compassion organised regular counselling with a trained psychologist. Her doctor also recommended she be kept away from the hostile neighbours and the scene of the attack. Due to the stigma attached to rape in the community, Koki was teased at school. With Compassion’s help, Koki was enrolled in a nearby boarding school. The new friendships and change of environment helped her through the trauma. The Compassion staff acted as an advocate, friend, protector and champion—they stood with and stood for Koki.
One long year later, justice prevailed. In February 2013, Koki’s attacker was sentenced to life imprisonment. “The offence committed is inhuman and despicable,” the magistrate said. Koki’s family felt like they could finally breathe again.
“I was satisfied … in knowing that my daughter will never come into contact with the accused again,” Muli said.
Koki’s parents have been encouraged by her progress since the trial. At night, she sleeps peacefully. Her parents say God’s love has helped her through the trauma. “She is active in Sunday School and at the Compassion centre, where she prays and recites Bible verses in front of other children,” Mwende days.
Today, as Mwende looks around the compound, all is peaceful. Koki skips with a rope. Later she sits inside, a notebook on her lap. Pen scratching softly, she carefully records her dream for the future. In big letters, Koki writes the word ‘doctor’ and draws a self-portrait. Outside, the sun is bright. The night has passed, and this young girl’s future is full of hope.
Koki knows she matters. She is known, loved and protected. Become a sponsor today.
Words by Silas Irungu and Zoe Noakes
This story previously appeared in Compassion Magazine: About The Girls, October 2014
*Names have been changed to protect identity.