Meet the first female crime-scene doctor in Kenya

Dr Kizzie Shako is the first female clinical forensic medical practitioner in Kenya Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

Dr Kizzie Shako work involves gathering information, or evidence, from the injured in violent crimes such as sexual violence cases. Currently, she is an advisor to the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court 

Dr Kizzie Shako, 41, has swallowed many bitter pills on her path to becoming the first female clinical forensic medical practitioner in Kenya.

Her position came after 12 years of excelling in a demanding field that many consider a man-only domain.

Dr Shako graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Medicine and Surgery (MBChB) from the University of Nairobi (UON) and with a Master of Forensic Medicine from Monash University, Australia in 2019. 

Driven to create a better Kenya by strengthening the criminal justice system, Dr Shako advocates for child-friendly environments, gender equality and women empowerment.

Dr Shako, a Clinical forensic medical practitioner, has worked as an acting forensic police doctor for nine years within the National Police Service in Kenya. 

“My work involves gathering information, or evidence, from the injured in violent crimes such as sexual violence cases, non-accidental injuries in children, intimate partner violence as well as accidents whether traffic or occupational,” she says. This work, she notes, not only requires listening skills, documentation, and opinion formulation but also medico-legal and psychosocial knowledge to ensure victims receive holistic care.

“The complex cases include domestic violence and sexual abuse, where I must go beyond a patient’s medical needs to include their psychological status, safety, security, social well-being and available social support,” Dr Shako shares. 

This, she says is crucial because lack of support sees the survivor return to the environment that caused the injury, which is potentially life-threatening and contributes to mental health problems. 

Growing up, Dr Shako was completely captivated by crime scene work.

 “At the time I did not know that the correct term was ‘crime scene’,” she says.

Television series significantly influenced Dr Shako’s imagination, and she sometimes would wander off into the fields around where she lived at the time, looking for bones and skeletal remains, that are signs of clandestine graves.

At 17, she knew she wanted to be a forensic pathologist or a forensic scientist. After her Masters in Forensic Medicine, she was posted to City Mortuary to support death investigations under the supervision of senior pathologists in 2010.

“I was mentored by forensic pathologists like Dr Johansen Oduor. I attended to crime, and death scenes, and was part of disaster victim identification procedures, exhumations, and mass fatality cases,” she says. 

Even though she was living her dream job, which was the highlight of her life at the time, she realised that she wanted a broader perspective on forensic medical practice.

Two years in, she was posted to the Police Surgery to assist the then-police surgeon.

“At the time I didn’t know what that entailed neither was I familiar with the nature and extent of the scope of work. On the very first day, I was given a crash course and informed that my duty was to fill out P3 forms,” she shares. 

She noted she had moved from attending to dead bodies to the living. 

“Apart from that these people were alive, most were afflicted by despair, pain, desperation, frustration, and for sexual violence cases, shame and torment,” Dr Shako says. 

Dr Shako says she soon realised, that her role, as a doctor, in that office was not to fill out forms. Her role, given her forensic background, was to conduct forensic medical examinations, gather evidence from victims and suspects and help the victims navigate their journey to justice and recovery by coordinating the necessary service providers as a case manager would.

“Within a year, after interacting with key stakeholders (courts, suspects, victims, police, defence counsel, children officers, parents) and making observations from a forensic lens, I gained clarity about who I was and the issues ailing the country when it comes to violence,” she says. 

Dr Shako was determined to strengthen the criminal justice system and promote gender equality and child protection.

“10 years later, and with over 10,000 cases under my belt, this is what motivates me to keep going,” she says.

She admits that there have been not-so-good experiences.

“Working in a male-dominated field was an opportunity and a challenge. I got to expand my mind and think outside the box but I also faced gender bias,” she shares. 

“I have faced discrimination because of my gender, my seemingly youthful appearance, and my soft-spoken nature. Workplace conflicts, gaslighting, jealousy, sexual harassment, have also been encounters,” notes. 

She says her intolerance for injustice and listening to counsel from older and wiser colleagues has kept her open-minded and humble.  

Dr Shako has been honoured by several organisations for her human rights work, and women empowerment since 2015. Notably are The Top 40 under 40 Women of 2015 by Business Daily and the Human Rights Defender Award by the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in 2017.

She also received the Utumishi Bora Award, an Award by the Kenya Women and Children Wellness center by the Jordan Foundation, Ismaili Women, and World Vision Kenya in recognition of her service to survivors of SGBV at the Police Surgery in 2018.

Dr Shako is the founder of the Vunja Kimya Foundation, an initiative she says was a result of the observations she made as far as the response to Gender-Based Violence, evidence management, and child protection was concerned. Through Vunja Kimya Network, over 800 cases have been assisted.

She was also part of the team that re-evaluated and redesigned the current Kenya Police Medical Report Form (P3). Dr Shoka is also an associate editor for an International Forensic Publisher and runs an online platform that responds to GBV-related distress calls.

“When at the Police Surgery I handled not less than 40 patients a day. About 10 of these cases would be intimate partner violence, 99 per cent of these being women and children,” she says. 

The continuous exposure to traumatic cases took a toll on her and her family, and coupled with the intense desire to bring about change on a larger scale, Dr Shoka left the Ministry of Health and National Police Service.

She is currently working as a consultant, as Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) advisor to the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, where she focuses on the establishment of specialised SGBV Courts in Kenya.

Dr Shoka also sits on the National Council for Administration of Justice (NCAJ) SGBV Committee tasked to review laws governing SBGV in Kenya.