Stigma and discrimination: Standing up for sexual assault survivors

Monday, August 19th, 2019 12:00 |
Models set to take part in the Miss Diva contest.

For sexual  assault survivors, healing takes different forms.  Some opt to keep quiet, but for others, speaking out helps them cope. Unfortunately, not many choose the latter because of the stigma and discrimination it comes with. 

Noni Mbuguss’ healing started when she left home for a safer place in Watamu. She now wants to give other survivors of sexualt assault the same space for healing and recovery, as well as give them opportunities to build a career for a better future.  

“It is not easy being a survivor. It took me a long time to come back to life. I had to leave Nairobi for Watamu to get a safe space to begin my healing.  My marriage broke because of this  and I did not have the courage to talk to my family about the things I went through that fateful night.

It’s now 17 years and finally I have enough courage to open up. I want to be that pillar and shoulder a victim would need to start the healing process,” says Mbuguss. 

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights defines sexual violence as  any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It encompasses rape, sexual abuse, sexual enslavement, forced prostitution and sexual abuse. 

The impact of sexual violence ranges from physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections to emotional trauma and loss of employment and livelihoods. In the long term, it can reduce or end income and productivity due to immediate and long-term medical expense or injuries. It could also lead to stigma and ostracisation from the community. 

As a tourist destination, Mombasa and Watamu are seen as areas prone to sexual violence due to high levels of poverty and ignorance. 

The National Crime Research Centre, says the prevalence of gender-based violence in Mombasa is 2.1 per cent compared to a national average of 8.3 per cent, while that of rape is at 20.6 per cent compared to 24.6 per cent, one of the highest in the country. 

“The girls see white visitors as a source of income, and sleep with them for about Sh2,000 or less. The tourists take advantage of their poverty and neediness. The saddest thing is that some parents even sell out their kids to get money.

It is not all tourists though; there are young women defiled by closest members of their families such as fathers, brothers and uncles,” says Priscar Mghendi, a rescue volunteer and teacher, Baraka Chembe Mixed High School. 

Against this background, Mbuguss and Mghendi have been working since 2011 to rescue victims and place them in the  Watamu safehouse. “It is hard to start healing when you remain where you got defiled. You will die in silence because the episode lives in your memory forever.

It took leaving that space for me to start healing. So, I want the other survivors to get this space, as I try to push cases in court for justice. Most defilers are walking scot-free like they did nothing,” adds Mbuguss.    

A vital part of Mbuguss’ project is Miss Diva, an initiative through which she works with models who are survivors of SGBV to help reintegrate them into the community and earn life skills. Survivors are attending an educational boot camp at the Lily Palm Resort, Watamu, ahead of ‘Miss Diva’ beauty contest set for August  30. 

Phenny Eronde, a sexual violence survivor and a contestant, hopes Miss Diva will create awareness about the gravity of the crisis and show survivors that they can get help.

“I am not really ready to talk about what happened to me, but I am excited to stand against SGBV.  Such violence is always happening and sometimes, people don’t even understand how much it eats up someone. All I can do is encourage survivors to come out and talk to someone.

Don’t die in silence. I hope we can help create a safe haven for the other victims. All they need to know is that it was never their fault that these things happened, they are not weak for feeling the pain over the years, that they deserve better and that they are perfectly beautiful too,” she says.

Despite the gravity of sexual violence in the county, Mbuguss and Mghendi say they get little help from the government, including the women representative who they have reached out to, but in vain. They also get little or no co-operation from survivors’ families who ought to be part of the healing journey.

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