Consent, rape and legal frameworks are three contentious and often misinterpreted topics when dealing with cases of sexual violation in Kenya. With our partner Safe Spaces Kenya (a platform to amplify the voices of young women and their issues by holding thematic bi-monthly events), we discussed these important topics with over 70 young Kenyan men and women, including legal experts and theater groups. By addressing myths and normalised behaviour, participants were able demystify and address issues with facts and analogies. It truly was a safe space that empowered strong-willed women and men who came together to share stories, challenge beliefs and educate each other.
A huge thank you to Safe spaces for partnering with us to make the event a success. To all the participants, who came and shared stories or advice, we thank you for trusting the space and helping us in this worthy cause of addressing sexual violations.
“To protect our children, we must talk to them about rape.”
― Desmond Tutu
Because of the traditional patriarchal society in Kenya, rape culture has been normalised. Women have been socialised to believe men are superior and should always be in control. In so many tribes rape is typically blamed on the woman, so when it is reported it resolved through victim-blaming, slut-shaming and endless demeaning treatment from the community. Since many Kenyan youth have been brought up in this kind of traditional culture , it has affected the way rape is viewed in society.
One aspect of rape culture has given rise to “rape jokes”, something that most women who attended the event confessed to having experienced at least to many times for it to be a worrying issue that needed to be addressed. “How can we find humour in rape?” asked one of the participants.
Most of the participants shared experiences about swallowing painful jokes made at the office, at home, or with friends. Reporting has become hard for so many women who would rather keep silent about being violated rather than being slut-shamed or interrogated by everyone. Rather than being accepted, they face painful questions like “Why do you walk at night?” or “Why do you dress in a provocative manner?”
Even the men in attendance opened up about rape in the male world and how it has become silent. It is often even more difficult because even when man admits to being abused, they are met with skepticism or worst, criticisms of their masculinity.
There was a lot of heated debate around consent. Not only is the topic is often misunderstood, it is such an intimate judgement, that if often lacks the critical analysation of cases or incidences. “It is often an uphill task to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was consent or lack thereof when analysing sexual violation cases.” explained Professor Emma Senge, a law professor at Strathmore University. .
Professor Senge explained consent from a legal angle and gave different examples where the participants were asked to identify it as either consensual sex or rape. According to Professor Senge, consent is not easily determined as it often involves perception and interpretation of feelings and reactions. Furthermore, it is also contextual, as it is a reflection of societal attitudes and values, policy considerations and gendered power relations.
As explained by Professor Senge, the term consent was not given definitive and clear definition in Kenyan law, leaving it vague and open to interpretation for the court. In cases, it often judged based on circumstantial evidence such as struggle or resistance.
Being a law professor, Professor Senge has spent most of her time and resources writing and researching on the Kenyan legal frameworks when it comes to sexual violation. She shared some of the laws that have been put in place to safeguard and protect victims, but also mentioned that often time these laws are imperfect and in such situations, society needs to step in. All legal information shared by Emma can be found on the Kenya Law website under The Sexual Offences Amendment Bill 2016.
"Safe Spaces is important and necessary because the voices of young women are often ignored and their issues dismissed. Through forums like Safe Spaces we create spaces where the voices of young women are amplified and their issues prioritised. These conversations are what spark change and we are glad to be part of the change!"
-Leila Kangogo (Founder of Safe Spaces)