“Rape is normal in Kilifi, lawyer tells magistrate” that was the headline of a newspaper article. (See link) I opened the link to be sure what the article was all about as what was appearing in the headlines could not make sense. According to the article, a lawyer was defending his client right to bail and justifying that rape was normal so there was no need to retain his client and refuse him bond. He verbalized that to the magistrate to the shock of all who were in the court. To hear such a comment from someone who would like to be referred to as a ‘learned friend’ is disturbing. He was expressing what he believes, rape is normal! Rape in very simple terms would be forceful sex. In this case according to the newspaper article the rapist had forced a 15 year old into his car, defiled her and then bought for her emergency pills to avoid pregnancy. A pregnancy would link him more to this girl so this ‘small’ issue needed to be taken care of ASAP; then he was on his way. Such guts! It makes one nauseated. And this lawyer thought this was normal, no big deal in this area. Did it mean he knows that rape is the norm, happens every now and then and nothing happens? Nobody raises an eyebrow?
The number of times I have heard sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) justified is countless. There are many times that survivors of sexual violence for example will be judged to have contributed to the violence through their actions or lack of. There are times when the actions of the rapist are justified as having been responding to a need that the girl or woman was not able to express properly. The phrase “a woman /girl says NO when she means Yes” has been thrown around so often. Some forms of violence are justified as ‘discipline’ more so Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) where one is violated by a person who she or he is intimately involved with. Needless to say majority of survivors of different forms of SGBV are women and girls. The global statistics indicate that about 10% of survivors of SGBV are females. The prevalence may vary in different places.
The acceptance of violence in its various forms is often justified as being aspect of social cultural practices hence hiding behind this. I have often in the course of my work encountered various justifications around violence that tend to isolate the impact or intention to classify if the violence is justified or not. In some instances for example, the intensity of physical violence is seen as a determinant as to whether the violence is allowed or not. Often we assume that ignorance or lack of understanding the basic human rights contributes to this attitude hence awareness creation would help. However, when such a statement comes from an individual who has studied the law, it becomes even more disturbing. The fact that individuals and sometimes larger portions of society see violence as being justified is a great disservice to women and girls in Kenya and the world. It is a disservice to women and men, girls and boys who suffered gender based violence.
Seeking justice is compromised as the survivors will encounter persons with this attitude at various points of the justice system. Since 2013, a case that happened in Kenya caught attention of the world. At 16, Liz was beaten and repeatedly raped, then thrown unconscious into a pit latrine in Busia County, in Western Kenya. The local police took the law in their hands and gave their own brand of "punishment"; they ordered the assailants to cut the grass at the police station! Yes cut grass then go home. This angered many people and a global campaign #JusticeforLiz started. There was continuous pressure on this and after about two years finally justice for Liz was achieved.
While the lawyer has a role in defending his client, his comments left so much to be desired. It is a shock to many that in this era, that can be used as a justification “rape is normal”. How many people refuse to report because they fear that the crime will be treated as ‘normal’? How do we make perpetrators know that it is not normal?