Rape is everyone’s worst nightmare. And so is death. When Wangu Kanja was accosted by gangsters and asked to choose between the two, she went for the lesser evil and lived to tell the story. She narrates to HENRY KAHARA the ordeal that changed her life forever, how she finally found closure and is now reaching out to rape victims, helping them overcome the trauma.
Wangu Kanja begins this interview by questioning why people have stopped being human. She wonders why the society has become so cruel. “Rape is a crime that defies all logic. Years back, it was unconventional to hear stories of men raping their daughters but such stories abound today,” says the rape survivor and sexual gender-based violence activist. According to Wangu, rape cases have risen in the recent past hence the need to stop telling the tale and instead act before the situation gets out of hand.
A horrendous experience
In 2002, while on her way home in the company of friends, Wangu’s life changed forever. “I remember all too well. It was a rainy evening and I was in the company of two of my friends when thugs ambushed us at gunpoint. They robbed us of our personal possessions and demanded for our ATM pin numbers. Then they freed the two male friends accompanying me and held me at ransom as a bargaining power in case my friends had given out the wrong PIN,” she recounts the unfortunate events that changed her life.
While some of the thugs went to withdraw cash from the nearest ATM, two of the thugs remained behind with Wangu. “Next thing I knew one of them was demanding that I undress! My pleas for him not to rape me fell on deaf ears. He put a bullet on my arm and asked me to choose either to have the bullet go through me or give in to his demands. I made a difficult choice; to be raped and live,” recounts Wangu.
Although she reported the case to the police, sadly, they never caught up with the criminals. In addition, she had no one to stand with her during the turmoil. “It hurt so bad yet I couldn’t even speak about it as I was too afraid of the stigma,” says Wangu who at the time was 27 years.
She says some of her friends couldn’t understand what she was going through as they felt she was a grown up and should be able to handle it. Others thought she had asked for it as she made the choice. With no outlet, Wangu fell into depression and found solace in alcohol all in a bid to numb the pain.
“It was difficult to have such a conversation with one’s parents since such topics are distasteful in the African culture. In my case, my parents didn’t help in anyway and I don’t blame them for that. I know it is not easy to be a parent and one of the hardest conversation African parents can have with their children is that of sexuality,” she notes and adds that failure by parents and the society at large to address sexuality issues has perpetrated Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) cases to thrive in the country in silence.
Wangu found closure and healing two-and-a-half years later while undertaking a course in counseling. “I saw an advert on one of the daily papers of a college offering courses in guidance and counseling. I enrolled and in the process of learning, I got counseling services from a lecturer,” she says.
She urges the society to embrace discussions on sexuality matters in broad daylight and also offer SGBV survivors the support they need in order to help them recover.
Empowering rape survivors
Aware of the plight of gender-based violence survivors, Wangu has started a foundation – The Wangu Kanja Foundation – to support children, women and men affected by sexual violence, give them hope and advocate nationally on their behalf. “My vision is to have a society that is free from any form of violence. The action towards this is creating awareness on the issue, supporting survivors to start their healing process by accessing comprehensive care and support,” she says. She hopes that Kenyans would stop normalising things and act whenever they see something wrong going on in order to stop evil from thriving.
On whether SGBV is linked to one’s dress code, Wangu says, “It isn’t. SGBV is about power relations where certain individuals look at others as weak and think they are better than them. In fact, sexual and gender based violence is no longer a women’s issue as it affects every one. There are cases of boys and men being abused and the numbers have risen over the years hence SGBV ought to be addressed starting from the family unit level because when parents set a good example to their children they will follow their footsteps and become better citizens.”
According to Wangu, when gender-based violence happens, it disrupts everyone in a family. Consequently, it affects the state as a lot of resources are used in treatment, counseling, and much time wasted in courts seeking justice. She commends efforts by various NGOs dealing with SGBV that have been carrying out civic education sensitizing people about the vice, especially in slums where most of these cases are reported. This, she reckons, has made it easier for survivors to know where to seek treatment, a move that has also helped in data collection.
She notes, “Although much has been done, the government is yet to do a vigorous campaign about the issue by helping investigate the cases and punish perpetrators. Already there are laws in place to address SGBV-related issues but there is no goodwill to implement them. This has made it hard to win the battle. The government needs to create an environment where survivors feel free to report gender-based crimes without fear or intimidation and have a specialized police unit to handle gender based violence cases because as of now, the police desks are not conducive to reporting rape cases.”
Wangu feels as a country we are hurting people when we fail to get the right services hence some end up becoming perpetrators. She, therefore, urges Kenyans to choose leaders with integrity and hold leaders accountable, as well as take personal initiative to help end gender-based crimes. As we conclude this interview, Wangu says she can’t wait to see a society that is safe and free from all forms of violence.
DOS AND DON’TS AFTER A RAPE ORDEAL
Rape or sexual assault may affect you either emotionally or physically. Here are the dos and don’ts in case of rape:
Try as much as possible to stay calm and don’t beat yourself up with self-blame. Go to a place you would feel safe. If possible talk to a close friend or a relative to help you deal with the overwhelming emotions and take you to the hospital.
Do not take a shower as this might destroy evidence against the assailant. To obtain this evidence, the doctor will need to take samples of your saliva, urine, blood and pubic hair, and swabs from your mouth, rectum and genitals. The evidence will never be used without your permission.
Go to a health facility within 72 hours because interventions that protect you as a rape survivor are usually successful within this period. One such intervention is the post-exposure prophylaxis – an anti-retroviral given to a survivor who tests negative for HIV. The sooner it is initiated, the greater the chances of ensuring your safety.
Emergency contraception is also effective within 72 hours. This prevents possibility of conceiving from a rape ordeal. You don’t want a constant reminder of the rape incident, which comes with a lot physiological trauma to process.
If you change your clothes, carry the soiled clothes as this will help with collection of evidence. Do not store the clothes in a plastic bag, as this may tamper with the accuracy of the evidence. Instead, wrap them in a brown paper or a newspaper.
Report the matter to the police. A sexual assault or rape is a sexual offense. You can make the police station your next stop from the hospital.
Seek the help of a counselor to help you go through the process of healing. Trained trauma counselors can be found at the health centers and hospitals. Some people may not feel safe sharing the horrific rape ordeal to a familiar person hence a counselor will be ideal. You can also visit a gender violence recovery centre where you can get help. Most of these services are free of charge.