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.