The young woman is nursing a drink in a local bar. A group of men approach her table and confront her. A skirmish ensues; they rain blows on her and rip her clothes off. “We will teach you a lesson today. You will finally know who, between you and us, is male,” hisses one of the attackers.
“You will know who has the reproductive organs of a man between you and us.” Blows rain down on her again and again. After what seems like an eternity, as they wrestle her to the floor, she overcomes her initial shock and realizes they are about to rape her. Although she is bleeding from cuts on her body, she finds the courage and reaches out for a beer bottle, breaks it on the floor and tries using it to fend them off. A little too late.
They only flee after it becomes apparent that they were not going to succeed. This young woman was lucky, but others like her are not so lucky. The Executive Director of Gay Kenya Trust (GKT), David Kuria, who narrates this story, says the woman was lucky to have escaped, although she had severe injuries. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.
Kuria says gays experience a lot of stigma and hostility. The society treats them with so much venom; some have been brutally murdered because of their sexual orientation. “Last December we lost two gays mysteriously,” says Kuria. “The body of one man was found dumped in a trench near City Mortuary along Mbagathi Way, while the other corpse was found at Jamuhuri estate.
The gay community faces a lot of disdain and violence and their human rights violated.” Meanwhile, Kate Kamunde the founder of Artists for Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA), an organization that articulates human rights issues for lesbians through performing arts condemns corrective rape. She says that raping a lesbian to change her sexual orientation is the most despicable thing anybody can endure.
“If a lesbian is raped she will most likely end up hating men more, while others may suppress their sexual orientation due to fear of what may result, if she stands her ground as a lesbian,” says Kamunde. “This will mostly develop into emotional distress to many of these women, which may eventually lead to suicide. Most teenagers have actually committed suicide due to stigma from close relatives who cannot accept their sexual orientation.”
Jeff Moses, a gay man, who works at ISHTAR, an organization under Gay and Lesbian Association of Kenya (GALK), says that stigma is rife, even among the police who are ironically supposed to be protecting the citizen, regardless of sexual orientation. “About five months ago one of our gay members was assaulted by a policeman around city centre. He is a commercial sex worker who was waiting for his partner but his mission was cut short when the police beat him, robbed him of his money and phone, leaving him for dead.
Luckily, he was saved by a good Samaritan,” Moses says. Jeff observes that, as a gay person living in Kenya, he is defined by fear. He dare not go to certain places, or declare his sexual orientation in particular public settings. “I live in fear,” he says. “There are restaurants that people would be turning their heads and pointing fingers at me or my gay friends. This makes me feel very uncomfortable. I am very particular to restaurants or joints that I go to.”
According to Susan (second name withheld), a counselor based in Nairobi, corrective rape may be a result of many things. She says that many youth are addicted to pornography, which may corrupt their mind and some of them end up committing crimes like gang rape or sodomy. “In boarding schools, students at times sodomise other boys, especially if they discover they are gay, and girls are raped when they show signs of lesbianism. The society feels like the lesbians and gays deserve to be raped, because they look at them as people who are ill,” she observes.
But what are human right bodies doing about it? There is a lot of dehumanizing crime being committed, which should be reported and the culprits punished accordingly, Susan states. And it is not only in Kenya that stigma is rife. For instance, although the South African constitution legalizes the rights of gays, the society does not accept them. “We have legalized it, but damn, we rape them, stone, stab, and kill them!” says Ms Linda Mafu of the World Aids Campaign (WAC) in South Africa.
Edith Ingutia, a Kenyan working in Namibia, is infuriated by the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual (LGBTI) people. She says South Africa has the same ritual: a community sends men to a lesbian’s home and rapes her believing that this will instill sexual feelings towards men and turn her normal. Instead, says Ingutia, the dehumanizing act repulses lesbians from men even more. “A few months ago a South African lesbian was brutally tortured, raped and murdered.
This is gender-based violence; it could happen to any girl even if she is not a lesbian, if culprits to such heinous actions are not punished. Monica Kareithi, a lawyer who fights for the rights of the gay people, of Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) stresses the need for people to understand lesbians, gay, bisexuals, and transgender. She believes that if there could be an advocacy campaign to the community about them, perceptions of them would be less hostile. “These people are not sick, so no one should impose a remedy for them. Rape is illegal, whether on a gay or straight person, it is a crime against humanity which should be punishable in a court of law,” Kareithi stresses.
“If a woman is not sexually attracted to a man, raping only fuels hatred. The woman will loathe men. They could get unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and suffer low self esteem,” she adds.
The problem is further compounded by HIV and AIDS. According to Helga Musyoki, the programme manager of Most at Risk Population (MARP) at NASCOP, studies show that about 60 percent of men who have sex with other men are heterosexual. This makes the rate of new infections of HIV rise, since they have both female and male partners. “When we look at the new statistics of MARP in Kenya, currently they comprise one-third of all the new HIV infections.
The statistics, however, have not separated them in their various categories, which are MSM, commercial sex worker; the statistics are inclusive of all the MARP,” she observes. Dr. Simon Nyangena of Aga Khan University Department of Pathology says unprotected anal sex with a person who has HIV or another STD, is the sexual activity with the highest-risk to both men and women.