As I listen to the girls’ stories, coaxed out with hot tears, I struggle to find an answer to this question: what makes a man rape a young girl?
Mercy Chidi, who runs Tumani Girls Rescue Centre in the Kenyan town of Meru, has several theories. She has dealt with over 240 rape cases since she opened the centre in 2006, including cases involving girls as young as three.
“We have had several girls who have been sexually abused by their immediate relatives, like a grandfather, an uncle, because they believe they are going to get cured of HIV,” she said.
“A few men have bragged they want to be the first to deflower the flower. So when a girl is young they want to be to the ones to experience this girl.”
None of it makes sense to me.
The only answer I can come up with is that the men don’t really understand the gravity of what they are doing.
“I don’t think he cares what he did,” said Alice, who was raped when she was 12 years old by one of her father’s relatives.
Her parents often sent her to wait at his house after school until they finished work.
The man, a father in his 40s, told Alice to serve him food in the living room.
“When I was taking the food to him, he grabbed me and covered my mouth,” she said, fidgeting with a string on her trousers as we sat in Tumani’s sparse counselling room.
“He said he would kill me if I told anyone.”
Alice told her mother who went to the police. But they refused to look for the perpetrator unless she paid a bribe.
Three years later, Alice has not been able to move on with her life.
“Sometimes my father drinks and he reminds me about it. He insults me. He says I took myself there,” she cried, wiping her nose on her blue polo shirt.
The perpetrator’s wife, who lives three minutes from her home, has told their neighbours that she is a liar.
POLICE REFUSE TO INVESTIGATE
That young girls like Alice are blamed and stigmatised for being raped is even harder to understand than the crime itself.
Delve into government statistics and you begin to understand where the problem is coming from.
- 12 percent of women age 15 to 49 say they were raped the first time they had sex.
- 45 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence.
- 53 percent of women believe it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she argues with him, burns food, refuses sex, goes out without telling him or neglects the children.
In a society where violence against women is so widespread – and so broadly accepted – it is easy to see why rape victims like Alice are not taken seriously.
Chidi’s efforts to win justice for the girls who pass through her centre have largely failed.
“We have lost more than 80 percent of our cases, not because the offence never happened, but because the prosecution has failed to prove their case because the investigations are not done,” she said.
The police have refused to record rapes unless the victims produce witnesses, refused to investigate allegations of incest until girls give birth to test the babies’ DNA and even locked up and threatened one girl who reported being raped by a fellow police officer.
On October 11, Chidi filed a petition in the High Court seeking to compel the police to do their job.
“It [Rape] will not be taken seriously if I know I will go to the police station and nothing will happen,” she said.
“But if I knew the law was working and something was being done about it, I will restrain myself.”
Her conclusion is a depressing one.
Why do men rape? Because they can get away with it.