13 September 2018

Kenya: Musyimi - We Have Failed Sharon Otieno and Many Others

Photo: Benson Momanyi/Daily Nation
Sharon Otieno's parents Douglas Otieno (left) and Melida Auma (centre) and relatives speaking to the press at their home in Magare village in Homa Bay County on September 12, 2018.

Did Sharon deserve to be raped? Those blaming her are shameless and senseless. I pray they never experience that in their lives. What makes the perfect rape victim? To most people such a question will seem abhorrent. Yet, despite decades of efforts to change antediluvian attitudes towards sexual assault, the myth persists that some victims deserved rape.

The belief that a woman should ever be held accountable for an act of sexual violence against her is one that we tend to comfortably attribute to aggressively patriarchal regimes.


Most women try to modify their own behaviour in an effort to ensure their safety - avoiding dark quiet streets, taking taxis short distances after dark, promising to text friends when they make it home. Yet rape still happens. About 90 per cent of rapes are committed by someone the victim already knows.

Those who seek to shift some responsibility for preventing assaults onto women fail to see the contradiction in claiming that they are only trying to prevent sexual violence while simultaneously contributing to a narrative that supports its perpetration and discourages its disclosure.

While the myth persists that there is a way to stop rape other than to end some men's sense of impunity and entitlement to commit it, women will indeed remain vulnerable in their homes, on the streets and in the courts.

Hon Njoki Ndung'u once tried a bill on the castration of rapists--I wish Kenyans had taken her seriously.

Victim-blaming causes additional trauma to survivors, because it burdens them with guilt, shame, and the impossible responsibility to prevent violence that others choose to commit.

The survivors are often blamed, and this is a worldwide phenomenon. This hinders them from getting the support they need in their healing journey.

People who report rape -- especially women who belong to vulnerable populations (women of color, poor women, disabled women, trans women, very young women) - are scrutinised in our courts and in our popular media. To report a rape can mean being further victimised by not just the victim-blaming system but also by the support structures we thought we had in place, like the police, school, friends and family.

Sharon was abducted, tortured and killed but by victim-shaming her, we have failed her. Even if she had been the most wicked of women on earth she would not have deserved this. Rapists are worse than animals, even animals don't rape!

If this matter did not touch on a politician it would most likely be concluded by now. But this is Kenya, where impunity reigns. The only justice I expect for Sharon is from God. And soon the wheel will come full circle.

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