Kenyan Police Needs Sexual Crimes Unit – Experts
Victims of rape and justice activists across Kenya are calling on the authorities to set up a specialised police unit to handle gender-based violence and ensure perpetrators are held to account.
Experts attending the National Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Peace in Nairobi at the end of September said that incidents of rape were dealt with unprofessionally, and that the legal requirements to secure a conviction actually impeded justice.
Two years ago, 27-year-old Celestine Ochieng was the victim of a brutal gang rape in the town of Eldoret in the Rift Valley region.
She passed out during the ordeal she was subjected to by six men. When she came round she was in excruciating pain, but managed to stagger to a nearby police station to report the crime. When she got there, she was humiliated and ridiculed by police officers.
“You prostitute, where were you coming from when you were raped?” one policeman asked her, as Ochieng recounted.
“Six men and you managed all of them! How did you feel?” another male officer said.
Ochieng, who now runs educational campaigns on gender-based violence for a local NGO, told the Nairobi summit, “Police are the greatest challenge and the barrier to survivors getting justice.
“They started yelling at me and calling me names and even blamed me for being responsible for my rape.”
Critics of the current system say victims of gender-based violence often do not report assaults because they fear being mistreated in this way.
“Many victims suffer silently because they are afraid to speak out due to stigmatisation and rejection, not only by their communities, but also by some institutions mandated [to help them],” Betty Murungi, vice-chair of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, told IWPR.
Even so, reported incidents of gender-based violence are on the rise in Kenya.
Various surveys have produced a range of statistics on the number of recorded cases of rape in Kenya in recent years, although all show an increase. According to statistics from the Kenyan police, the annual total rose by 33 per cent – more than 1,000 cases – from 2007 to 2011.
Other statistics indicate that three out of ten women in Kenya have suffered some form of gender-based violence. In a 2010 study led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 32 per cent of the women between the age of 18 and 24 who were surveyed said they had suffered sexual violence before they turned 18.
Joan Ngunzi, deputy director of the gender education department at the Teachers’ Service Commission, called on the government to establish a fully-resourced, specialised police unit with dedicated personnel to handle cases of gender violence.
“It is interesting to note that we have a special police unit for animals, and people speak loudly about livestock theft and even name culprits, yet they fail to name those found to have raped young girls,” Ngunzi told participants at the Nairobi summit.
“It is high time that the government established a specialised police unit like the Flying Squad Unit, Anti-Terrorism Police Unit [or] Banking Fraud Unit within the Kenyan national police service with a dedicated team, with resources and an operational mandate to accelerate gender-based violence cases in the country,” she said.
Three years ago, designated desks were set up in many police stations across Kenya to deal with gender-based violence. The intention was to provide trained personnel and a private area where victims could record statements and discuss their ordeals. But the facilities have never functioned properly, due to lack of government funding.
According to Marcella Wanjiru, a police superintendant who attended the Nairobi event, most of the resources earmarked for handling gender-based violence get channelled into other areas of policing such as financial fraud and counter-terrorism.
“The gender-based violence desk is grossly under-funded within the police department,” Wanjiru told IWPR. “Most gender desks in police stations are manned by unqualified personnel who in most cases are reassigned to other duties, leaving gender violence cases unattended.”
According to Wanjiru, there is a dire need for a specialised unit which has the operational autonomy to expedite cases.
“A unit comes with resource allocations and trained personnel to manage the cases as well as offer preventive, promotional and rehabilitative services in all the 47 counties in the country,” she said.
Without such a unit, justice in gender-violence cases will remain elusive, Wanjiru added.
Besides a lack of trained officers and resources, access to justice is also hampered by the long legal procedures which victims need to go through when reporting an attack.
Kenyan law requires that all cases of rape or other attacks are recorded in a document known as a P3 form. The rape victim must get a form from the police, take it to a hospital and have it filled out by the doctor who examines them. But often the forms are not provided to the victim until it is too late.
Pamela Godia, a doctor in charge of gender and reproductive health rights within the Kenyan health ministry, told IWPR that this has often left victims of rape “grappling with delayed treatment and justice”.
“The P3 forms are inaccessible and in most cases made available when crucial evidence has been destroyed,” Godia said at the summit. “This means that if you are filling information [in] retrospectively, you may not be able to capture everything.”
Besides the problems with getting hold of the P3 forms, doctors charge 1,500 Kenyan shillings (18 US dollars), to fill them out. Victims of rape are responsible for paying for the form to be completed and for asking the doctor to present the evidence in court.
Jebiwott Sumbeiywo of the non-government group Peace Initiative Kenya told the Nairobi meeting that new measures were needed to relieve rape victims of the heavy burden of presenting their case.
“That a victim of sexual and gender-based violence is to pay to seek justice is a major flaw in the P3 forms and a major barrier to accessing justice,” Sumbeiywo told participants in Nairobi. “There is need to outlaw the current fee.”
In a bid to solve the problem, the health ministry is launching a new form which will be available at hospitals free of charge.
Opportunities to gain justice are also diminished by the dearth of public education programmes on services available to victims, and the lack of specialist equipment such as DNA testing facilities at local level.
Experts are calling for forensic laboratories to be introduced at local hospitals so that DNA evidence can be gathered and stored effectively after a rape or assault is reported.
Currently, DNA testing is only available at two hospitals, both in the capital Nairobi. This often leads to crucial evidence being lost.
When medical examinations are carried out at local hospitals, there is often poor coordination between the hospital and the investigating police.
“Even with the introduction of the post-rape care forms that seek to enhance collection of data, as well as the push to establish forensic laboratories in most health facilities in the country, without cooperation amongst key stakeholders such as the medical officers and the investigation department of police, the envisioned special unit may not mean much to these survivors,” Godia told IWPR.
Robert Wanjala is a freelance reporter in Eldoret in Kenya’s Rift Valley region.
This article was produced as part of a media development programme implemented by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation.