What you need to know:
- Sexual violence victim says he was going about his business hawking phone accessories when he met the perpetrator on that fateful day.
- After the traumatic assault, he and his friend reported the case to the police, but they have yet to get any feedback on the progress of investigations.
When Felix Kibala* left his home in the conflict-prone region of Minembwe in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his biggest hope was to settle and rebuild his life in Kenya. A soft-spoken man, his eyes today harbour deep sadness and his voice is shaky.
He is a survivor of sexual violence, twice unlucky. The bad memories are still fresh, the more recent incident being less than three months ago.
“One evening, I was going about my day as a hawker selling smartphone screen protectors, chargers and other accessories. I met a client and installed his screen protector. He then asked me to accompany him to his house, saying his wife also needed one,” he says.
“I didn’t find anything unusual with the request. I called my friend as I did not have the particular screen protector that would fit his wife’s phone. Because it was a bit late, around 6 pm, I asked my friend to accompany me.”
Mr Kibala says when they got to the client’s house in Kariobangi, Nairobi, they were ambushed by two other men wielding guns. They threatened to kill them if they screamed. The request was a trap. The customer and his two accomplices sodomised them repeatedly.
“Eventually, they let us go. After the first assault that happened to me, I had been referred to Lavender House and so this time round I figured it out and went back there for help.
"I was afraid that I might have been infected with a sexually transmitted disease or even HIV. We trekked in pain. They had also robbed us, leaving us with nothing. We got to the clinic at around midnight,” he recalls.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/ Doctors Without Borders, a non-profit organisation, has been running Lavender House, a 24-hour sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) care clinic, since 2008. The facility on Juja Road borders Mathare and Eastleigh North and handles cases from the larger Eastlands.
Ms Barbara Kerre, a mental health supervisor, says that on average, they get 250 cases per day, of which eight per cent are men aged above 18. She says the number of men could be higher as many male victims fear seeking help.
Mr Juma Mukabane, a social worker at the clinic, attributes under-reporting to stigma and a system that is not male-friendly.
“It is hard for men to report assault by other men and even harder in the case of women perpetrators. If rape evidence collection primarily revolves around high vaginal swabs, how then do they gather evidence from a man without a vagina who has been forced by a woman?”
He adds that society has focused on raising awareness of violence against women and encouraged them to report, which is not the case with men, despite many men also experiencing psychological violence, which eventually manifests in physical violence.
Mr Mukabane also blames existing cultural and gender stereotypes for demeaning male survivors who speak out.
For Mr Kibala, coming out for help was crucial. With no family around to offer support, he says he may not have survived without the clinic.
“Until now, I cannot fathom what happened, but there is not much I can do except take heart and move on,” he says.
“My life is ruined and I am shattered. My only hope is that we can one day end sexual violence in all forms because it destroys lives.”
After the traumatic assault, he and his friend reported the case to the police. They have yet to get any feedback on the progress of investigations.
Ms Selfin Otieno, a psychologist at Lavender House, asserts that while women are the majority of those who visit, there has been a rise in the number of men going to the clinic in recent weeks.
“It is important for individuals to get psychological help immediately after experiencing such trauma because a lack of it can result in other mental disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even substance abuse,” she says.
Lavender House offers free medical and psychosocial support for all survivors of sexual violence, including a 24- hour toll free emergency hotline number (0800 721100) and ambulance services. The clinic also has a community mobilisation team to raise awareness of their anti-SGBV services.
“Therapy usually happens on clinic days because the survivors we have most times cannot afford to come in as many times as we would like them to. Social support goes hand in hand with psychological support; that is why we link them to safe houses and other forms of help that we may not offer,” says Ms Otieno.
While the clinic is making strides in supporting male survivors, Mr Kanambe says the government and other stakeholders should do more to support boys and men, including establishing safe houses for them.
“In Nairobi, we have less than 10 shelters that we have linkages to and none of them cater to the needs of male survivors. Even for children’s shelters, they limit the age to 14 for boys, making it very difficult,” he says.
He believes that the way forward is to balance the efforts in supporting survivors instead of focusing on women and leaving out male survivors.
“The gender and children desks at police stations are now increasingly being manned by women, which means for a man, it would be difficult to report owing to the existing stereotypes, as earlier mentioned.
“Many of the male survivors here are refugees and they only come out because they know they can get other forms of support from refugee organisations. But for the local mwananchi, the system is not receptive enough in terms of support, be it social, financial, or legal, hence many choose to stay silent,” he concludes.
*The survivor’s name has been changed to protect his identity.