This Saturday, I was hanging out with the most amazing women in the world catching up on the year, something happened. One friend was fondled inappropriately by the mall mascot! I have shared the matter with the management in an email, and their Facebook page, They have emailed an apology and said they will take action against the mascot. In the mean time the Mascot needs to send a written and formal apology to my pal.
We talked about the reality of sexual assault in this country. About 8 years ago I found myself in desperate need to get some form of emotional healing, I was angry all the time and I needed to find the cause of it and resolve it, in came Alabastron.
It was a great healing process and an opening to a new understanding of myself. During this process I was exposed to the horror women bore. One area that got me shocked was the endless accounts I heard, of sexual harassment and assault, from fathers, uncles and cousins. One lady I recall,opened up about being raped repeatedly by her father as a child. I was in shock. She spoke about it so nonchalantly, like it was normal.
But that’s what it was, during the group discussions, I realized that sexual violence and emotional abuse in Kenyan homes had been normalized. But it doesn’t stop there, in public transportation before the advent of the Michuki rules (officially known as Legal Notice No 161 of 2003). Individuals were packed like sardines in Matatus; our private owned public transportation, women, myself included, were harassed sexually.
In primary school, as young as 11, some of my classmates would tell me about getting home off the public bus with ejaculate on their uniforms. There were heavy breathing men, towering above them as they fondled them inappropriately, or masturbate in the bus. There was only so much wiggling they could do away from the assailant, because when you are packed in like sardines you cannot help but brush against people or even move away from the numerous perverts in the bus.
Asses are grabbed, when you fight back you are called all kinds of names. You kind of get used to being called a ‘whore’ with time. Now that there is more sanity in public transportation it doesn’t mean that it’s stopped. We had the #MyDressMyChoice campaign in 2014, following a series of violent stripping of women at public bus termini. Women were stripped for being “inappropriately dressed”. Hogwash! Others would go to the extent of raping and other forms of Godforsaken sexual harassment.
In my neighbourhood, I hear the Matatu folk call me “sumbua”, which means “to disturb” in Swahili. In my context, it is a name accorded to people who stand up for themselves and don’t take nonsense from anyone. A common practice with Matatus at the bus stops is a persistent need, by those hollering to fill the vehicle, to coerce passengers into the vehicle with a shove.
I tend to avoid being touched and call out anyone who attempts to touch me. Some of the conductors mostly male, may take offense and conclude I am being proud or just “sumbua”. Not wanting to be touched has nothing to do with pride; it’s all about personal space. DON’T INVADE IT!
My best friend was jogging in her neighbourhood one morning and out of nowhere a guy starts to jog by her side, he says nothing. Another incident, she was jogging and a group of men walking on the road began to jeer her. One man left the group and started to jog beside her. She ignored him, as the group behind him laughed. In both instances the men eventually walked away. But they never seem to realise how scary and offensive that is for women.
In my teens, in a matatu there were numerous incidents of men acting like they were drunk who would take advantage of the Matatus swerving either to avoid collision on the road or just being driven badly, and opt to push up against the nearest woman to “cop-a-feel”. That happened to me and I witnessed it and fought for other women when I saw it. I also experienced an incident when I was standing in a Matatu, I was handing the conductor my fare and he rubbed himself against me, I screamed and shoved him and called him out, no one paid any mind in the vehicle.
No one came to my rescue, I was 15 years old, and it was from that day on, I realized that I was on my own. And that meant that every day I would have to fight. This was bizarre to me because, I was raised by a father who respected my mother, who cared for us all as his children and never condoned such behaviour.
It never quite made sense, but for the majority in this country, sexual abuse is normalized, there is no need to report it, you don’t talk about it. Women carry the bane of it, but the reality is men have been raped and sodomized. A popular Kenyan columnist, Josaya Wasonga, shared his heart wrenching experience.
It is not that we don’t have the law on our side to prosecute; it’s a failure by the system to ensure justice for the victims of sexual assault. In 2012, I started the year with this heart wrenching story. 5 years later, the situation remains true. The 2006 sexual offences act is not being implemented; perps are walking scot free, from the villages, the churches, mosques, to the slums, the suburbs to the highest offices in the land. And the victims of it are left, angry, hurt and confused suffering with various forms of PTSD.
True healing in this country will come, when victims can find healing and the perps pay the price for their crime; jail.