I recently received a call from a distressed acquaintance whom we shall call Flo. Flo called seeking assistance for her 3-year-old daughter who is a victim of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV). Through the course of our conversation, she explained the myriad of challenges she had experienced – from seeking medical assistance to getting her statement recorded at the police station. Things that should have been routine and treated with urgency took her two trips between the medical centre and the police station before she could record her statement.
Flo thought that she had at least played her part and the wheels of justice would finally run smoothly to bring the perpetrator to book. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Flo was informed of a mishap that had occurred at the hospital that had rendered her daughter’s forensic samples missing. She was advised that a DNA test needed to be conducted. The sample that was required for testing was on the undergarment her daughter wore during the incident.
In her mind this was not a problem because she had handed over the garment to the police officer handling her matter for safe keeping. Imagine her shock and trauma when the officer informed her that the undergarment had been eaten by a rat and there was therefore no way to prove that the perpetrator had indeed carried out the act. At this point my emotions had moved from anger to disappointment and had settled on sadness.
Unfortunately, Flo is not the only person seeking justice in an SGBV case who has had to go through such tribulations. SGBV survivors’ services in Kenya are unfortunately not centralized or survivor-centred and, often, one must move from one office to another to seek the necessary assistance. SGBV cases are very time sensitive. Any unnecessary delay increases the chances of the perpetrator going scot-free, leaving his victim(s) to deal with the psychosocial trauma.
While responding to SGBV survivors, it is best to use a survivor-centred approach. The United Nations defines a survivor-centred approach as one that seeks to empower the survivor by prioritizing her rights, needs and wishes. It means ensuring that survivors have access to appropriate, accessible, and good quality services including health care, psychosocial support, security and legal services.
To ensure that SGBV victims are properly attended to, the government has established gender desks at police stations and hospitals. While GBV activists and other stakeholders appreciate the efforts made, it is important to ensure that the gender desks are functional and providing the relevant and quality services. Shortfalls such as lack of equipment and qualified personnel not only potentially deny the survivor justice, but also affect her psychologically.
Other than poor storage facilities and management of evidence, many times, survivors have had to narrate their ordeals in the open at police stations. Some survivors have complained of being ridiculed and shamed by the very same officers. Such actions demoralize the survivors and deter them from reporting and pursuing their cases.
While there exist criminal sanctions for perpetrators under national and international legal frameworks, there is need for a more survivor-centred approach which includes remedies for the survivor including reparations. Existing laws and policies ought to be amended to ensure that the survivor’s psychosocial and legal needs are met and protected. One way of ensuring this is by having a centralized referral path for victims and uniform services in all facilities. This will ensure that the quality of service is not in question and further that people seeking assistance like Flo are not handed the short end of the stick due to low quality of service.