Human Rights Watch research confirms that, once again, there was sexual violence against women and girls during the most recent post-election violence in Kenya. I interviewed over 50 victims and witnesses in Mathare, Kisumu, Bungoma, and Dandora. They told me about rape, gang rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, and beatings on their genitals, including by members of security forces and militia groups and civilians.
Some survivors urgently need medical treatment and counseling. Many were unable to go to health facilities because they were afraid of retaliation or stigma or did not know where to go. Given that the police themselves were the attackers in some cases, few reported these crimes.
Since the 1990s, Kenyan elections have been marred by serious human rights violations, including killings, maiming, and destruction of property. In 2007-2008, over 1,000 people were killed and half a million displaced. Sexual violence against women and girls, though less visible, has been a part of these abuses and just as devastating for victims. Men and boys, to a lesser extent, have also been targeted.
The patterns of election-related violence in Kenya suggest that there is a real threat of sexual violence in next week’s repeat election. The Kenya government needs to be ready to take urgent measures to protect women and girls and to ensure that any women and girls assaulted have access to medical treatment and can report crimes and get help from the authorities.
The government needs a credible plan to ensure that sexual assault victims get timely and quality post-rape treatment. This need is more urgent because of the ongoing strike by nurses, limiting available health personnel and facilities. Information for communities on where victims can get post-rape care, including free treatment, is crucial.
Kenyan authorities have failed rape survivors. They should take measures during the upcoming elections to protect women against rape, including by government security agents. They should ensure that there are clear codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures in place, for example, with respect to police, and raise awareness and speak against sexual violence. When rape happens, offenders should be investigated and prosecuted. Women have a right to vote without the fear of sexual violence.