Slay Queens, Socialites And Sponsors: Sexual Violence in Kenyan Society

“Justice, Justice, Justice for Sharon Beryl Otieno and baby Sharon”.

Sharon Otieno’s mother Melida Auma declared raised hand whilst wearing a stoic expression in her final emotional sendoff for her daughter on the 20th of October at Magare village in Homa bay county. The constant drizzle throughout the funeral service reinforced the solemnity of the occasion. It was one month and two weeks since the kidnapping and brutal murder of the seven month pregnant Sharon Otieno, the hitherto unknown student from Rongo University.

The heinous murder shocked the country and the story hogged the headlines for weeks.  On the 4th of September the mutilated body of Sharon Otieno was discovered lying in the open next to a thicket on the fringes of Kodera Forest in Homa Bay. A farmer named Moses Ongili of Ogero village stumbled upon Sharon’s corpse while herding cattle and raised the alarm before filing a report at the Oyugis Police station.

Where Is The Outrage Against Rape?

For over two weeks the Indian Press kept the world glued to the touching story of a young female student gang raped in a moving bus.  Sustained countrywide protests were staged as ordinary Indian citizens poured into the streets in their thousands to empathize and demand justice. Precisely a week after the New Dehli incident, a 4 year old girl was raped and murdered in Mombasa County by a man paid to protect her family’s property. As keen observers in mainstream press pointed out, the general outrage on social media hardly made a bleep. Only a single politician from the Coast said a word about it and by time the fake cop saga came around a day later the national conversation shifted to the more sensational story.  The reaction to the story online was characterized by anger and male commentators majorly advocated for the death penalty,  an eye for eye but it did not last more than a day.

As decent men, we shudder even at the thought of hitting a woman. This is one of those myths that re-frame rape when we assign it to outsiders and strangers who use sex as violence against those they hate or envy. The imagery presented, is one of a dehumanized male figure, clinically deranged, economically emasculated, socially dis-empowered, and reduced to a beast that deserves no pity. Yet as the Mombasa incident reminds us, a large number of the rape victims are assaulted in environments that are supposed to be safe and by people they know and trust.

Acquaintance has given many men the license to abuse, especially in marriages where women are deemed to be property. Consequently, incest raises its ugly head. We frequently hear about cases of underage children only because the injuries are easier to detect. It is important to remember that the victim does not have to be threatened with a dangerous weapon or be injured for an incident to be considered rape. Coercion or threat of violence is usually sufficient to make most people succumb. These cases are rarely reported because the person concerned is a decent man with a clean reputation. The victim is left facing the social ridicule of accusing her husband of rape. She will suffer blame for provoking the situation by being stubborn, dressing inappropriately or simply forgetting her place.

The culture of blame keeps the victims silent and the pressure of not bringing shame to the family’s good name buries the incident. The chips funga mentality a recent urban euphemism for casual sex preaches that female sexual consent is something that can be bartered with drinks. Naive girls are caught in a drunken game where the line between seduction and rape gets blurry with every shot of tequila. The influence of hardcore porn and popular lit has blurred the boundaries of rape fantasies to feed the message that sexual violence is a sign of passion and love which keeps many women chained to abusive relationships.

That said it is worth remembering that rape is about making sense of sex and rapists paint a clear picture of how society socializes its men.  As the dominant group, men have to start to understand the privilege of an institutionalized patriarchal system and how that privilege is abused.  The excesses of male power over women have made sexual violence a staple news item. We conspire with the rapists by staying silent and promoting the notion that is OK for men to punish and control women through sex.


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