Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Three years ago, 32-year-old Lilian Kirabo* was raped. She talks about her struggle to overcome the trauma and her struggle to accept and love the child she bore as a result of the attack. I wish I could forget that day… but I cannot. It was on 31 January 2009. I had gone to meet an old friend who had promised to help me get a job where she worked. Since she lived in Mombasa, I had travelled from Nairobi the previous day so that I could honour our appointment. We had agreed to meet at her office, but when I got there, I found it locked. I called her on her mobile phone, thinking that she was just running late, but it was switched off. I decided to wait for her by the lifts; this way, I would not miss her. About 30 minutes later, there was still no sign of my friend. I got impatient and decided to inquire about her at the office next door. Had I known what would happen to me there, I would have taken the next bus back to Nairobi. But I did not know, and the consequences haunt me to this day. I knocked, and entered. I found two young men, who courteously welcomed me and asked how they could assist me. I inquired about my friend’s whereabouts, but instead of answering my questions, they asked why I wanted to see her. I told them that she was supposed to assist me get a job. They handed me a sheet of paper and asked me to put down my name and other details. They said that they, too, could help me get employment. Why not? I thought. As I was writing, one of the men left. The other one started rummaging through the drawers of the desk behind which he was seated, as though looking for something. He suddenly jumped over the desk and held a knife to my throat. It was cold. I was too surprised and shocked to react, so I just sat still. He calmly informed me that if I tried to scream, he would slit my throat and throw me out of the window. “People will think that you committed suicide,” he said. Then he started to insult me, accusing me of being a prostitute who had come to Mombasa to look for white men. He bolted the door, undressed, then raped me. He did not bother to use a condom. It was horrible and it appeared to me like a bad dream. I had never imagined that I would be a victim of sexual assault. When he was done, he unbolted the door and called the man who had left on his mobile phone. The accomplice came in and ordered me to get out and not pass through my friend’s office. He even followed me to make sure that I got into the lift. When I got out of the building, I tried to call my friend, but her phone was still switched off. Even though I was still in shock, I managed to ask for directions to the nearest police station so that I could record a statement. Walking in there is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I felt embarrassed, but knew that it was important that I report what had happened. When I found a policeman at the desk, I asked if I could speak to a female officer. I recounted my story, but she seemed unmoved, making me feel even more embarrassed. She informed me that she was expected elsewhere, but would accompany me to the office where I had been attacked. We found the office locked and when we peeped through the window, it looked empty. She advised me to go back to the police station a day later since it was a Saturday. I made my way to my aunt’s house, where I was staying. I thought of going to hospital since I was worried about contracting HIV, but I had no money. Asking my aunt for money was out of the question because I knew that she could not spare any. I was also still feeling embarrassed and was afraid that she would not understand how something like that could have happened to a grown woman. Instead, I took a shower, then called my mother, who was visiting her parents in Kampala. We are close and I felt comfortable telling her about the rape. Unfortunately, she too had no money, and advised me to return to the police station on Monday. The policewoman accompanied me to the office, but it was still locked. We waited for a while for the caretaker, who was not in his office, but the officer got impatient and left. I felt that she was not supportive and seemed not to understand the magnitude of my despair. I went back to my aunt’s home and tore the documents the police had given me to enable me to pursue the matter. The following morning, I boarded a bus back to Nairobi. The journey home seemed to take an eternity. I switched off my phone because I had no desire to talk to anyone, but my mind was in overdrive. I had a lot to worry about. HIV crossed my mind, as did pregnancy. Already, I was the single mother of a five-year-old girl whom I was struggling to raise. I had gone to Mombasa with high hopes of getting a job to enable me to give my daughter a decent life, yet I was going back home worse off than when I set off. I wondered how safe my daughter was if I, her mother, was not. Two weeks passed in a blur. Then I began feeling sick in the morning, making it difficult for me to get up. When nausea set in, the possibility of pregnancy loomed. When I missed my period, I felt as though my world had crashed. All that occupied my mind was the pregnancy. I worried every minute of the day and night. I could not sleep. Eventually, I decided to have an abortion and went to a nearby private clinic. I was informed that the procedure would cost Sh7,000. I did not have the money. Even if I did, I would have better used it to pay rent, buy food, and pay school fees for my daughter. In desperation, I tried to induce an abortion by swallowing a detergent, but nothing happened. I tried several other concoctions, but they too did not work. I finally decided to commit suicide. But first, I decided to confide in a friend who works at the Kenyatta National Hospital. She told me about the hospital’s Gender Violence and Recovery Centre (GVRC), where I could receive free treatment. She also cautioned me about abortion and informed me that I did not have to keep the baby if I did not want to. She took me to see a psychiatrist who, over time, helped me to open up. The personnel at the centre called my mother and informed her about the pregnancy and also told her that I needed support. My mother became my source of strength. It is because of her that I managed to stay sane through the pregnancy. I would get agitated whenever the baby kicked. I felt as though my abuser was not done with me. I hated to feel the baby move and I hated the thought of giving birth. I resisted taking an HIV test and only gave in when I was booked for delivery after it was explained to me that I needed it so that I could protect my child from contracting the virus in case I tested positive. When I got the results, I was relieved to know that I was free of the virus. I finally gave birth to a baby boy. He did not resemble me and I resented him. My mother decided to call him Blessing. She took it upon herself to show him love when I could not. This gradually changed my attitude towards him. Mother encouraged me to breastfeed him and, to my surprise, I found myself getting attached to him. She also talked me out of placing Blessing for adoption, and promised to look after my son as if she were her own, if I could not bring myself to do it. Learning to love Blessing It has taken time, it has been emotionally and psychologically taxing, but I have learnt to disconnect my son from the rape. I now love him regardless of how he came into my life. Blessing is now two-and-a-half years old and I love him with all my heart. He is a loving boy who enjoys football and building blocks. He is talkative and observant. He gets me talking whenever he notices that there is something bothering me. He does not hesitate to ask, “Mum, ni nini?” (What is it?) An important lesson this experience has taught me is that it does not matter how old you are, or how you are dressed. A rapist will always find a reason to attack you. On the day I was attacked, I wearing a long flowing skirt suit since I was going for a job interview. Why would anyone argue that rape victims invite the attack because they dress indecently? If this is true, what about children? We have heard of grown men raping two-year-old children. This experience has also motivated me to speak against sexual abuse. Thanks to the training I have received at the Kenyatta National Hospital’s GVRC, I know a lot about such attacks. I visit schools in Nairobi at least once every week to speak to pupils and students about rape and other forms of sexual assault. My interaction with these young people has taught me that sexual abuse among children is common. In most cases, the attackers are relatives and other adults in whose care they are entrusted. My colleagues and I teach these children how to spot a potential perpetrator and when to report to their guardians and other people they trust of suspicious friendships. I urge parents to talk to their children about sexual abuse and caution them about getting involved in inappropriate friendships with adults. It is something I do with my daughter all the time. A candid talk will equip them with survival skills that they can apply even as adults, skills that could keep them safe from sexual attacks.

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