7 November 2012

Kenya: I Was Gang-Raped, Infected With HIV

Susan* has gone through harrowing experiences in her life. Now a campaigner against rape with a local NGO, the 29-year-old will be sitting her KCPE next month in her journey to be a human rights lawyer

WE had been in contact for just a week and when I proposed an interview, Susan was more than willing to tell her story. We met at a hotel in downtown Nairobi on a drizzly Wednesday evening.

Susan's story is that of undying courage. She is picking up the pieces one day at a time. Susan knew about her sexual orientation at an early age, something which stirred conflict between her and her step father. "At the age of five, I was confused but by the time I was 10, it was clear that my interest were in girls," she said.

Growing up in a village somewhere in Nyahururu, her father could not stand his daughter's claims. "I was always on the receiving end and a day was too long to go without him abusing me physically despite being a sharp girl in school," she said.

As a punishment, her father withdrew paying her school fees and Susan got into manual jobs from where she raised the fees with extra support from her mother.

At the age of 12, she was given an ultimatum to either change her sexual orientation or leave home.

The physical and psychological torture was too much and one day she decided to move out with her sister. They rented a small room at a nearby trading centre, from where they could walk to school.

This, she says, was the beginning of her troubles. "One night, our dad came with a group of policemen who beat us senseless. They brought down our shanty and we were left in the cold," she recalls.

The following morning, they decided to seek refuge from their brother who lived in Nairobi. "That is how I dropped out of school." At this point, what she needed most was a job to earn a living to take care of herself.

She approached her brother who gave her Sh500 to start a business. "I went to a quarry near where we lived and I started breaking stones for sale. I even employed a few men after sometime," she said.

Her masculine physique and mode of dressing aroused curiosity in her colleagues. The men planned to find out about her sex. "Many people questioned whether I was male or female but I chose to ignore them," she says.

One night as she was heading home, she was ambushed by a group of eight men armed with pangas who asked her to undress. After resisting, Susan was beaten up before she was raped in turns. "They left me in a bad state, maybe thinking I would die. I stayed there the whole night, crying. It was the worst night of my life. They inflicted injuries in me and I decided to give up my work at the quarry," she said.

Out of fear, Susan neither went to hospital nor reported the incident to the police. After about two months, reality hit her. "I started feeling sickly and I visited a health centre." She received the shocking news that not only was she pregnant, but that she had been infected with HIV.

"I was only 18, I contemplated committing suicide while my friends advised me to abort the baby." She says her faith in God prevailed. "I am a very religious person and I prayed a lot. I asked God to guide my way." She decided to keep the baby who she now says is the best thing that ever happened to her. "I gave birth to a baby boy in January 2002 and luckily he was born HIV negative," she said. The boy is now 10.

Susan says her son is the person she knows loves her the most despite her condition and sexual orientation. "Despite being born out of rape, I love him; he is my sunshine," she says.

The boy knows her mother is gay. "He is in class four and knows all there is to know about me. He knows he will never get a father and that I serve both roles. He knows when it is time for me to take ARVs," Susan said.

As if fate conspires against her, Susan, who has been working as a volunteer with a local NGO championing the rights of women, was raped again last year. "I had moved houses and one day as I went home with a friend, we were attacked near Consolata Shrine along Waiyaki Way in Westlands.

"The six men walked us to Chiromo Road and dragged us to a bush next to a river where they raped us. I felt sad for all of them and especially my friend since I knew my HIV status."

The men were debating on whether to kill them when Susan spoke in her mother tongue, begging them to spare their lives. "He asked me where I was from and incidentally, we were from the same place. He is the one who saved us. He escorted us out of the bush and since they had robbed us, he gave us Sh100 to get us home."

The following day Susan convinced her friend and they went for checkup and to be treated for any STIs. They were enrolled for counseling sessions at Nairobi Women's Hospital. "We were put in a room with others recovering from rape. Some of the girls were way younger than me, even under 10 years; this was an eyesore. I left and never went back."

It was this incident that opened her eyes to start a campaign against rape and encouraging women who go through the ordeal to speak out. "I work in collaboration with the NGO to have women come out and encourage men to join the campaign. We also have campaigns to end stigma and discrimination against gays, lesbians and people living with HIV."

At 29, Susan has revived her dream of becoming a human rights lawyer and has been attending evening classes at a city primary school where she will be sitting her KCPE next month. "I believe when one falls down, they shouldn't stay down - they should lift themselves up, wipe off the dust and move on. That is what I am doing," she says. Mary has since made peace with her father.

* Not her real name

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