Women struggle to seek help after sexual violence


More than half (53 per cent) of women who suffer from sexual violence never tell anyone or seek help, reveals a Nation Newsplex review of domestic violence data.

More than half of women who live in North Eastern region (57 per cent) and younger women aged between 15 and 19 are the most likely to keep mum, neither seeking help nor telling anyone about the assault.

That may help to explain why these communities report the lowest number of sexual assaults.

Better educated women seem to suffer less from sexual violence.

According to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), 0.6 per cent of women in North Eastern said they experienced sexual violence. This was 36 times lower than the reported rates in Western and Nyanza. The two regions had the highest rates.

Seven per cent of the younger women reported experiencing sexual violence, compared with 18 per cent of women aged from 40-49. Older women were three times as likely as teenagers to report having been sexually assaulted.

Overall, one in seven women aged 15 to 49 said they had experienced sexual violence, with eight per cent saying they had experienced sexual violence in the 12 months preceding the survey.

For eight years, 22-year-old Mercy Chebet was scared of disclosing to anyone that she had been sexually and physically assaulted. She was afraid of her abuser and uncomfortable with sharing her ordeal experience with anyone.


Like Chebet, half of women aged between 15 and 19 never seek help or tell anyone, compared with a third of those aged 40-49. But as women grow older they open up about their ordeal in greater numbers.

“We are on standby 24/7. They call us through a helpline 1195; it has come in handy for our women in this country,” Fanice Lisiagali, a helpline administrator, told Newsplex about the survivors of gender-based violence.

“The culture of these women, anything bordering on sexual violence, they don’t want to come out, the word rape is hard for them. The helpline is empowering them in terms of breaking the silence.”

One factor that influences how likely a survivor is to disclose violence or seek help, whether physical or sexual, is religion. Women with no religious affiliations are the likeliest to open up, at 75 per cent, more than Roman Catholics (61 per cent), and Muslims, Protestants or other Christians (59 per cent).

In August last year, Jackline Mwende, whose husband chopped off both her hands, told the Nation that her pastor advised her to pray for her abusive marriage when she sought advice.

By geography, more than half of women from Eastern, Central and Western regions reported seeking help after suffering violence, be it physical or sexual, at rates of 54, 53 and 52 per cent respectively. They were followed by Nairobi (42 per cent), Rift Valley (39 per cent), Nyanza and Coast (38 per cent). In the

North Eastern region, only 19 per cent, less than a fifth, seek help.

“The government has done a lot, we have gender recovery centres, safe spaces, a raft of laws and policies against gender-based violence,” says Zeinab Hussein, the principal secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs.

But Gathoni Kimondo, a gender activist, says such help is not available to many women. “We found out there are many services for survivors of violence—medical, psycho-social—and these women do not know where to get the help they need. That is when we set up a link to breach the gap between the people who need the services and the people who offer these services. We inform, empower and empathise,” she says.

Experts also say that problems will persist as long as male attitudes remain unchanged. “We don’t have enough mentors for our young men, we need to empower girls and sensitise boys at the same time. How can we empower girls and leave out the boys and then send them back to get married to them?” says Oscar Githua, a forensic psychologist.


According to the 2014 KDHS, which was released this year, the age group of 25 to 29 faces the most risk, with one in 10 women saying they experienced sexual violence in the 12 months preceding the survey.

The likelihood of being sexually assaulted increases with age among women. While about seven per cent of women aged 15 to 19 said they had experienced sexual violence, 18 per cent, almost triple that proportion, had been sexually assaulted among women aged 40 to 49.

This suggests that women become more vulnerable to sexual violence while living independently as adults.

While 93 per cent of women aged 15-19 have never experienced sexual violence, the percentage of the unscathed plunges to 87 per cent for women aged 20-24. That sudden dive shows this age group is particularly at risk.

Seven per cent of women aged 25-29 said they had been subjected to sexual violence by the time they were 22, while eight per cent of women aged 30-39 said they had already been sexually assaulted by the time they were 22.


Better educated women seem to suffer less from sexual violence. While one in 10 (10 per cent) women who had at least completed secondary education reported ever having suffered sexual violence, nearly double the proportion (18 per cent) who had only completed primary education said they had been sexually assaulted.

In the 12 months preceding the survey, five per cent of women who had at least a secondary education reported sexual violence, compared with 11 per cent of those who had completed primary education, double the rate of better educated women.

The more money women have the less likely they are to face sexual violence. Just over one in nine of the wealthiest women (11 per cent) is likely to experience sexual violence, compared with 16 per cent of the poorest women.

While it is clear that having money does not keep women completely safe from sexual violence, it allows women to live in safer neighbourhoods, work during hours when chances of sexual violence outside the home are lower, and avoid jobs with a high risk of sexual violence. In addition to commercial sex work, jobs like street vending expose women to high risks of sexual violence.


“What do we mean when we say rape?” asks Stanley Githua, a psychologist. “Our society only classifies those who attack us in dark corners as rape. How about husbands not seeking consent from wives, parents abusing children, and friends and young people going on a drinking spree and not asking for consent?”

“I experienced rape when I was 19,” says Janes Amondi Owuor, 21. “I was having a get-together with my friends, whom I had known for quite a while. Little did I know that my drink was spiked that night until I woke up the next morning when I was alone and all sore.”

Mercy Chebet, 22, a university student, was raped by the manager of her family’s farm. Her parents were missionaries and were hardly available. The farm manager was her guardian, who was also responsible for managing the house when the parents were away.

“Parents must be there with their children. Most of the cases we are getting is that a very close relative who stays in that house is the one violating this child; it is up to their parents to become friends of their children,” says Lisiagali, the 1195 administrator.

More than half (55 per cent) of women who have been married in their lifetime and have experienced sexual violence said the perpetrators were their current husbands or partners, while more than a quarter (28 per cent) said the offenders were former husbands or partners.

Most of the time, these perpetrators tend to commit these acts in order to exercise control on their victims. “In the crime of rape, it’s a man trying to control a woman, or a woman trying to control a man without their consent for their power of control,” Mr Githua said.

Women who have never been married face greater risks of sexual violence from different groups of people, namely strangers and friends or acquaintances.

Whereas among women who are or have been married, only six per cent reported sexual violence by a stranger, 44 per cent of women who have never been married reported being sexually attacked by a stranger, nearly eight times the proportion of women who have been married in their lifetime. Fourteen per cent of never married women said they were attacked by a friend or acquaintance, more than three times the proportion of ever married women.