Earlier this month, Liz (not her real name), a 16-year-old schoolgirl from a small village in Butula, Kenya, was walking home from her grandfather’s funeral when she was ambushed, gang-raped, and tossed into a 12-foot latrine pit by six local men. Hours later, she was rescued when villagers heard her cries from the pit.
As a result of the attack, Liz suffered a spinal injury and an obstetric fistula; she is now confined to a wheelchair, reportedly unable to control her bowels. After she correctly identified three of her alleged attackers, locals turned them into the police, where they were handed weed whackers and asked to cut the grass outside the station as punishment before they were released.
The online outcry began earlier this month. Kenyans tweeted their outrage over the punishment with the hashtags #JusticeForLiz and #StandWithLiz, and the activism website Avaaz is circulating an online petition calling for Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo to bring the perpetrators and the officers involved with the case to justice.
The petition, which has garnered more than 1.1 million signatures worldwide, was the brainchild of Nairobi women’s rights activist Nebila Abdulmelik. The head of communications at the African feminist organization FEMNET, Abdulmelik launched the petition to draw attention to Liz’s plight and that of other sexual-assault victims in Kenya.
Screengrab via Avaaz.org
“Letting rapists walk free after making them cut grass has to be the world’s worst punishment for rape. It is an absolute failure of the entire system and an absolutely shameful response by Kenya’s police,” Abdulmelik told Kenya’s Daily Nation, which broke the story:
Liz is sadly not the first nor the last victim of rape—but her case has to be the moment when we all rally together, express our solidarity, our outrage and demand public accountability and an end to the culture of violence and impunity that has become the norm.
After the petition went viral, many Kenyan public officials released statements calling for Kimaiyo to investigate the assault and bring the perpetrators to justice. The Daily Nation has also launched a campaign to help pay for Liz’s hospital bills.
In a tweet last Saturday, Kimaiyo, who has also been criticized for suppressing the Kenyan media in the wake of last month’s Westgate mall attack, thanked concerned Kenyans for bringing the matter to attention. Although he stated that the investigation was ongoing and arrests had been made in the case, he did not elaborate further. The tweet has since been deleted, and replaced by the following:
Our investigations are complete we're awaiting normal process from DPP. #JusticeforLiz. IG— David Kimaiyo (@IGkimaiyo) October 26, 2013
The file has been processed through the normal channel and forwarded to the DPP for advise. #JusticeforLiz. IG— David Kimaiyo (@IGkimaiyo) October 26, 2013
Sexual assault is endemic in Kenya. According to a 2010 UNICEF survey, more than 30 percent of females and 20 percent of males under the age of 18 have experienced sexual violence. Yet the cultural stigma associated with rape means that the actual number could be much higher. Another report estimates that only one in 20 rape cases in Kenya is reported.
H/T BBC News/Kenyan Daily Nation | Photo via fakesalt/Flickr