What you need to know:
- Although it might be hard to tell that the man you love, your ex-husband, or your former boyfriend is planning to kill you, there are certain red flags and personality traits that indicate your life might be in danger.
- 30,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017 by their current or former partners. 50,000 women were killed by intimate partners or family members in the same year. 19,000 of these were killed in Africa.
- When faced with mobile sexual harassment, most women in Kenya fear that the authorities will not take them seriously should they report.
In November 2019, Major Peter Mugure led detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the Military Police to an abandoned compound in Nanyuki. At the compound, Major Mugure pointed at a shallow grave where the bodies of Joyce Syombua (his estranged lover), Shanice Maua(daughter), and Prince Michael (son) were buried. 36-year-old Major Mugure was the main suspect in their brutal murder. Joyce and the two children had been reported missing on October 27 after spending two days at Major Mugure’s home at the Laikipia Airbase, Nanyuki, where they were murdered. Fast forward to October 2021. On the morning of Wednesday 13, October 2021, Agnes Tirop was found dead at her home in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet County. A postmortem examination by two pathologists at the Iten County Referral Hospital (ICRH) mortuary revealed that Tirop’s life was ended by a stab in the neck. She had also been hit on the head with a blunt object. Her husband Ibrahim Rotich was arrested in connection with the murder. Two years apart, these brutal murders are only a small fraction of the many instances of murder within relationships and marriages.
Murders in relationships rarely happen out of the blue. Although it might be hard to tell that the man you love, your ex-husband, or your former boyfriend is planning to kill you, there are certain red flags and personality traits that indicate your life might be in danger.
Possessiveness and obsession: Men who consider women their property and part of their own identity are more likely to kill. “Such men would rather kill you – and sometimes themselves – than lose what they perceive as their own identity,” says Dr. Aaaron Ben-Zeev, a professor of philosophy and the author of The Arc of Love. These types of murders are more likely to ride on cases of separation, divorce, breakup, and infidelity (real or imagined). Before these types of murders occur, the abuser may say phrases such as ‘If I can’t have you, then no one else will!’ The murder is committed to prevent the victim from leaving or ending the relationship or marriage. For example, when Evans Karani, murdered his 25-year-old side lover, Catherine Nyokabi, in April 2021, he admitted in his confession to the police that he was obsessed with Nyokabi. After realising that Nyokabi was in love with another man, Karani asked her to delete the photo of the man. She refused. He first thought of dumping her, then immediately changed his mind. The thought of losing her to another man was too heavy for him to bear and he resolved to kill her instead.
Mental illness: A man with severe mental illness who fails to seek professional psychiatric help can be easily triggered to kill. “Mental illness, which falls under psychotic femicide, is one of the precipitating factors you ought to be cautious about, especially when there is no medical care,” says psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Ngarachu. Dr. Ben-Zeev says that you should be cautious if your spouse sees no meaning in life or has sunk into severe depression and apathy towards life. This will be compounded if he has joined cults or is practicing delusional religious beliefs. Within marriage, psychotic femicide is closely associated with acute psychotic filicide where one parent kills their children with no comprehensible motive. “These parents suffer from conditions such as schizophrenia, in which a person’s sense of reality is impaired,” says Dr. Chitayi Murabula, a consultant psychiatrist and mental health advocate. “If psychosis is involved, a parent may kill after losing the knowledge that the child is his and instead believe that he or she is a dangerous alien or demon.” In 2014, former KTN news anchor Esther Arunga’s husband, Quincy Timberlake, is reported to have killed their son while trying, according to Ms. Arunga, to expel demons and aliens that he believed had possessed the three-year-old boy. After committing filicide, a perpetrator may proceed to homicide where he chooses to kill you and himself.
History of abuse, stalking, and threats: Never take threats and acts of stalking from an ex-lover lightly. “A perpetrator will not act out of the blue. He will first make threats to get you back. If this doesn’t work, he may stalk you in a haunting manner that could end in homicide,” says psychiatrist Dr. Rueben Wasilwa. A history of abuse is also a common denominator in the majority of femicides. Do not hold back and wait for things to improve if you are subjected to continuous acts of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, torture, and abuse.
Types of abuse during dating: Violence in a relationship’s dating phase will range from rape, stalking, physical and sexual harassment, and coercive control. “Coercive control is one of the most difficult forms of abuse to spot during dating,” says Dr. Lisa Aronson Fontes who is the author of Invisible Chains. It will start with a controlling abuser asking you out on a date. Once you agree and he lures you in, he will be willing to do anything to ensure that there are subsequent dates or a relationship is born out of your dates. “To achieve his goals, he will employ coercion to keep you trapped in his web of either blatant or subtle abuse. If he suspects that you may turn down his dates, he may start stalking you, send you threats, assault you during dates, or in worst cases, attempt or even murder you,” she cautions.
Signs of danger during dating: Long before you go out on a date or during a date, there will be signs that the person you are with is an abuser. Some of these signs will be subtle and hard to configure. For example, Katherine van Wormer, the author of Death by Domestic Violence says that you may feel that you are the only one who truly understands him while others don’t. Don’t take this to be a gesture that you’ve found your soul mate. This could be because unlike others, you’re too blinded by your crush that you don’t realise that he is a psychopath. Also, you should take note when he regales you with stories about how submissive his mother is to his father and how he has been searching for the most submissive date – who he says he has found in you. This is not a compliment. “It means he expects you to be at his beck and call and will use any means to keep you submissive including violence, coercion, and manipulation,” says Nairobi-based psychologist Evanson Odhiambo.
Takeaway research in Kenya
Sexual assaulters are now using phone calls to attack women. In Nairobi, one out of five women is a victim of sexual and inappropriate communication. These attacks are perpetrated through calls and SMS by unknown people. A 2020 research study that was conducted by Truecaller and IPSOS shows that inmates and strangers call and text women randomly. Despite the sexual and bullying nature of these calls and text messages, a very small number of women in Kenya think that such calls and texts constitute harassment. The majority of the affected women are in urban areas including Nakuru, Nairobi, Kiambu, and Mombasa. These places are also home to some of the top maximum prisons in the country. When faced with mobile sexual harassment, most women in Kenya fear that the authorities will not take them seriously should they report. As a result, women don’t bother to report these cases to the authorities until the threat has been elevated to near criminal, physical contact, or even stalking.
The World Health Organization's report on femicide dubbed 'Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women' says that 30,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017 by their current or former partners. 50,000 women were killed by intimate partners or family members in the same year. 19,000 of these were killed in Africa. "Six out of every ten women intentionally killed are actually murdered by their romantic partners," says the report.