She spoke out
Tabitha Ndila*(not her real name) was a humble girl, determined to go past her secondary school education yet her family could not afford the fees required. She decided to go to work at the local centre as a cyber attendant where she sold air time and did photocopy, printing etc for her boss. It didn’t pay much but at least it gave her hopes, hopes that one day she can be able to get a college certificate and make her chances in life better. Her father was not for the idea, “why should be a girl live away from the house”, he asked, yet he was not willing or able to pay a cent for her college education. The girl was old enough for marriage, 22 years old, he thought.
Tabitha persisted and worked hard while saving the little she earned. She hoped to save at least Kshs 40,000 (approximately 500 USD) despite earning about 70USD which she used for her upkeep and house rent. She underwent some difficult situations at work despite her determination; the boss was making sexual advances which she refused and continued working hard, and felt that the boss would soon give up on her; after all she was in a relationship with the son to her boss. This made matters worse for her due the fact that one who was put in charge of the shop hence interactions with the boss was not optional. The tension continued but she has no much choice, couldn’t just resign, she had not college education, skills or capital hence her hands were tied.
I first met Tabitha in some unfortunate circumstance. It was a day she will never forget in her life! She was woken up by her boss in wee hours of the morning demanding that she gives back the keys to the shop and the cash she had carried with her. It was not unheard off for the boss to come for the day’s profit from her but not at this hour of the night or rather morning, 4.00am. The boss had threatened with sacking that day so this was the final handing over, but at 4.00 am? She woke up and fumbled with the lights to get the hand bag that had the documents needed and tried to give her boss by opening the door very slightly, but this was not to be. The man apparently had other plans and pushed the door on the unsuspecting and shocked lady and raped her! She screamed but nobody came to her aid.
I met Ndila in 2006 as I worked as a Program Officer for Women’s Resource Centre (WRCDI) where she was referred to the community based advocates. The case was quite sensational and hence I intervened from the Nairobi office to offer more support. Despite the trauma that she suffered she managed to think straight and take actions that many women who would be seen more empowered that Tabitha would have hesitated to. The rapist left her in shock but also very bitter. She called her sister who is nurse who advised her on the dos and don’ts and she had the courage to take action. I still marvel at this lady! Neighbours were unresponsive and she had to make the decision stand on her own and start the long journey to the police station with her soiled night dress and pants as evidence well packed in a bag. The rapist was waiting at the road but she managed to escape and the man followed her to the police station, what guts!! As she recorded her statement the shameless rapist through the police officer in charge offered her Kshs 40,000, just what she needed for her college, but she declined. Despite reporting to the police station at 6.00 am she was not given escort to the hospital until 11.00am thanks to the previous legal requirements that necessitated a P3 form to be collected from police station before seeking treatment.
Thank God the The District hospital offered her the Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) but the journey had just begun; and it proved a long and painful one. The small town was alive with news as this rapist (that is what he came to be known!) was a popular man in the locality. I can not claim to understand what Tabitha went through, but the little that I journeyed with her was enough to tell me that this soft spoken ordinary lady was no ordinary girl. I assisted by taking her to a rescue home for some time to get away from the hype in the village. Her father was particularly not pleased with her, after all, “why did she stay in the town centre alone”. However, after talking to the father I saw a victim of flawed masculinity and my heart went out to him. He was bitter with himself for not having protected his daughter; another man had injured his pride.
I was with Tabitha when the Anti retroviral Drugs (ARVs) reacted so negatively on her and on our way from Nairobi where she was in a rescue to Makueni her rural home, we kept stopping as she vomited. She was nauseated through out. Sometimes I would look at the tears in her eyes and pray that she gets the strength to move on. Sometimes I felt that I am in her thoughts and wondering, ‘is it worth it? Can’t I just leave this and forget it ever happened?”
But she didn’t.
She spoke out for herself and for many others. The neighbours refused to give testimony after intimidation but with counselling and the support that she received through the organisation, she persisted. It was disheartening to realise the far that the rapist (who was a teacher, demoted from a head teacher after sexual abuse cases) was willing to go. It took a lot of work to block his corruption as he tried to bribe his way in different areas. He tried to get early retirement and process benefits before the case was determined (yes he was one year from retirement, 54 yrs!) but with help of some good lady officers we were able to block this, hopefully he didn’t manage later on. The determination of this young lady encouraged us. As is common in the Kenyan and other justice systems, the case took so long and by the time I left the organisation in November 2007, it was still going on I court. I gathered later on that it was moved from the local court to Nairobi to avert corruption and as I write this, it is yet to be finalised.
I have not forgotten Tabitha to this date, I am proud of her that she was able to speak out!! It took a lot of strength for her to do this and for sure she is a great woman. As I keep wondering what became of the case, I know that Tabitha is a winner. I hope she is the last woman or girl that man ever touched!! For sure he felt haunted; he somehow could not understand why the organisation was interested in this girl who is a ‘nobody’ in the social status. My interest was in Tabitha and the many other girls that this man had defiled and got off easy. My interest was with the many other women and girls that were at risk since this man was free. I met another young woman, Karen who was 30 years by then; one day as I did training in the area and Karen was the rapporteur. The rapist had somehow marked me and the car we used hence we saw him hovering around (for some reason I never feared this despite the fact that any time I went to the area for work he would know). As I narrated the case to Karen, her face changed and I knew there is more to this. Later on Karen confided in me that this man had sexually harassed her when she was about 15 years old!! This had affected her social life and more so her attitude towards men for a long time, up to her young adulthood!!
Imagine how many other girls had suffered under this man!!!
But Tabitha is a shero, for she spoke out; she spoke out for them for me, for us. She spoke for the school girls who had suffered under this man and could not do much about this.