Broader Preventive Policies: The Missing Link in Efforts to Reduce Sexual Violence in Kenya

Broader Preventive Policies: The Missing Link in Efforts to Reduce Sexual Violence in Kenya

Persistent accounts of sexual violence in Kenya’s mainstream and social media paint a troubling picture of gender relations in Kenya. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 45 per cent of Kenyan women and 44 per cent of Kenyan men between the ages of 15 – 49 had experienced some form of physical violence since the age of 15.

At least once over the course of their lifetimes, one in every six women in Kenya is likely to face sexual violence compared to one in every 14 men. Although both women and men fall victim to gender-based violence, reports from the National Crime Research Centre indicate that the intensity of such violence is often greater against women, with research findings indicating that, globally, gender-based violence kills and disables more women between the ages of 15 – 44 than does cancer, and that its toll on women’s health surpasses that of traffic accidents and malaria combined.

However, it is children who are worst affected by sexual violence. The National Police Service Annual Crime Report 2016 shows that defilement cases accounted for 74 per cent or 4,601 of the 6,228 reported ‘offences against morality.’ In its 2015 annual report, the health NGO, Medecins Sans Frontieres, found that of the approximately 2,500 patients treated in its Lavender Clinic for victims of sexual violence, more than half were registered as being under the age of 18 and up to 25 per cent under the age of 12. The 2010 Violence Against Children Survey estimated that one in three females and one in five male children in Kenya experience at least one episode of sexual violence before the age of 18. These statistics reflect a minority of the actual incidents of sexual violence, due to under-reporting as a result of low legal literacy, unwillingness, shame, fear or the demise of many victims of sexual violence.

Kenya’s Constitution demands a shared national commitment towards the nurturing and protection of the well-being of persons, families, communities and the Kenyan nation at large. Thus, incidents of sexual and gender-based violence are a direct affront to the contemplations inherent in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and directly in contravention of, inter alia, Articles 19, 26, 27, 28, 29, 32, 36, 38, 39, 43, 45, 53, 55 and 57.

Besides the constitutional provisions, Kenya has taken several legislative steps to curb sexual violence. The Sexual Offences Act of 2006 characterises and proscribes the offences of rape, gang rape, defilement, sexual assault, child pornography, child trafficking, child sex tourism, child prostitution, exploitation of prostitution, incest by male and female persons, sexual harassment, deliberate transmission of HIV or other life-threatening sexually transmitted disease, stupefying with sexual intent, forced sexual acts for cultural or religious reasons, compelled or induced indecent acts with child imbeciles or adults, including any attempt or threat thereof. The Act further guarantees victims of such offences with access to free HIV prophylaxis, emergency pregnancy prevention pills and counselling. Aside from this, Kenya’s Penal Code and Employment Act, inter alia, proscribe sexual offences, including sexual harassment, while sexual offences committed against or by children are set out in the Children’s Act 2001 and Borstal Institutions Act. Taken together, Kenya’s legal provisions against sexual offences confer sanctions, which range from a minimum term of imprisonment of five years through to life imprisonment, if found guilty.

At the regional and international level, Kenya is also party to several conventions that bear relevance on the issue of sexual violence, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979; the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1990; the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993); the Rome Statute (1998) Article 7; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003); the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2004); the Protocol on the Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence Against Women and Children – International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (2006); the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) 2009; the Declaration of the Heads of States and Governments of the Member States of the International Conference on the Great Lakes on Sexual and Gender-based Violence (2011); and more recently, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with particular reference to Goals 5 and 16 on the attainment of gender equality and empowerment, and peace and justice, respectively.

The Government has also established policies to govern sexual violence in Kenya. These include the Kenya National Gender and Development Policy (2000) which sought, among other things, to encourage the criminalisation of wife beating; establishment of family courts for hearing of child-related sexual offences and use of camera-based witness testimonies; sensitisation of sexual violence case handlers, training of law enforcement agents on providing victim assistance; setting up of shelters for victims of domestic violence; dissemination of relevant information, including to persons with disabilities; awareness-raising through community-based education and training campaigns; promotion of appropriate gender-sensitive traditional and innovative methods of conflict resolution; and the introduction of special measures to eliminate Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) among female refugees or internally displaced persons.

County governments in partnership with the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) have designed and committed to the implementation of the County Sexual Gender Based Violence Policy of 2017 whose aim is to accelerate and reinforce efforts towards elimination of all forms of SGBV and improve the quality of life and well-being of every person through the tools of prevention, response, and coordination, monitoring and building evidence. Among the county-level commitments on sexual violence prevention within the policy are commitments to undertake public education, legal literacy and reproductive health campaigns both at the community level and through mass media campaigns; integrate and work with reformed perpetrators into long-term prevention programming; mobilise government institutions, civil society organisations and the private sector; improve coordination on gender equality and prevention of SGBV at both County and National levels; build capacity in the handing of victims and persons at high risk of sexual violence; provide support to community-based prevention programmes; and ensure integration of SGBV issues into county policies, legislation and strategic plans.

Also, the 2009 National Guidelines on Management of Sexual Violence in Kenya sought to introduce changes to the medico-legal environment of sexual violence pertaining to the collection, documentation, preservation and adducing of forensic biological evidence; and details clinical procedures for the counselling services of victims of sexual violence. Subsequently, the National Monitoring and Evaluation Framework Towards the Prevention of and Response to Sexual and Gender Based Violence, designed in 2014, aimed at recognizing the continuum of services, roles and obligations of numerous actors and their links within the broader ecosystem of responding to, preventing and ensuring coordinated interventions in respect of SGBV in Kenya. It also sought to highlight the lack of analysis of existing data on SGBV; set out critical indicators for monitoring and evaluation of progress in the elimination of SGBV; establish an integrated and functional SGBV multi-sectoral monitoring and evaluation system to assess national efforts in the prevention of and response to SGBV; and thereby contributing to evidence-informed funding, advocacy, decision making and programming in respect of SGBV.

The SGBV monitoring and evaluation framework comprises 24 indicators related to ‘post-facto’ responses to SGBV (i.e. the Number of individuals using SGBV social services and the ‘Proportion of health facilities providing comprehensive clinical management services for survivors of sexual violence’). This stands in contrast to only 4 indicators directly related to prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, for instance, completion rates for gender norm training (increasing community issues awareness); the number of programmes implemented for men and boys that include examining gender and culture norms related to Gender-Based Violence (GBV); the number of teachers trained in SGBV; and the proportion of international and continental conventions/protocols on SGBV ratified and enacted in national legislation.

Kenya’s sexual violence policies have placed emphasis on preventive strategies focused on changing social attitudes on gender relations. However, research by DeGue, Valle, Holt, Massetti, Matjasko and Tharp (2014) on prevention strategies for sexual violence perpetration underscores the challenges of such strategic paradigm. Specifically, their findings show that strategies focused on attitudinal change, although widely adopted, have tended to yield small preventive effects and may be inadequate in reducing sexual violence behaviours.

In Kenya, the prevailing emphasis on individual, institutional and socio-cultural factors linked to sexual violence has resulted in sexual violence policies and strategies that overlook the equally salient role of environmental factors in facilitating or impeding sexual violence. This is despite time-honoured research including by renown Criminologist, Ron Clarke, indicating that risky (criminogenic) physical environments can be artificially manipulated to reduce the likelihood that a potential perpetrator would engage in criminal activity in that setting. Efforts to artificially manipulate criminogenic environments to reduce criminal motivation include the use of CCTV cameras to increase surveillance and the perceived likelihood of being caught; strategic use of street lighting; reclamation of ambiguous public spaces; clearing away of neglected alley ways and removing signs of environmental neglect, suggestive of inadequate supervision; applying strategic curfews and scheduled street closures; and diverting pedestrian traffic and activities towards busier or open spaces, which would offer higher levels of natural surveillance. Contemporary applications of this broader approach to sexual violence prevention include a 2017 UNHCR programme which saw the installation of solar-powered community lighting to prevent ‘night-time sexual violence and crime’ against women in refugee communities in Northern Uganda; and again, in the provision of female-only transportation services at specified times of day in parts of India. Moreover, case studies indicate that such environmental interventions have proven successful in reducing criminal involvement in numerous instances in which they have been applied.

As this analysis shows, broader prevention policies remain a critical missing link in Kenya’s efforts to address sexual violence. The current legislative and policy regimes on sexual violence place an inordinate degree of emphasis on channels of reporting, investigating, treating, prosecuting and punishing sexual violence, in comparison to efforts to remove opportunities for sexual offending in the first place. There is, therefore, room for broader preventive approaches such as environment-centred interventions which can discourage sexually violent behaviours. If applied in concert with existing institutional and socio-cultural prevention strategies, investing in environment-centred preventive policies would present a new and effective opportunity for reducing incidences of sexual violence in Kenya.

Andrew Levi Olando, Governance Department, KIPPRA


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