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Rape in Kenya

Anyango, H. (1998, June 14). "Is there rape in marriage?" Sunday Standard, p.13; Nyagaka, B. (1998, June 25). "Elder, 66, rapes girl aged ten." East African Standard, p.1-2; Standard Staff. (1998, June 26). "It’s 12 years for 3 guilty of rape charge." East African Standard, p.7; Standard Staff. (1998, June 26). "Strict laws needed on defilement (child sexual abuse). "Standard, p.3; Ngesa, M. (1998, June 28). "Rape horror on the rise." Sunday Standard, p.17; Ngesa, M. "Assaulted (raped) and mugged couple cry for justice." Standard, p.18; Ngesa, M. (1998, June 28). "Police have failed us." Sunday Standard, p.19; Standard Staff. (1998, June 28). "The man who raped this 6-year-old child is still free." Why? Standard, p.19; Tesot, J. (1998, June 28). "Rape is the order of the day." Sunday Standard, p. 20; Letters to Editor. (1998, June 28). "Rape law does protect women in marriage." Nation, p. 17.



The above are just a few of the articles appearing over two weeks time in two Kenyan newspapers. They deal with many kinds of rape: child sexual abuse or defilement, acquaintance or date rape, domestic or marital rape, serial (or repeated rape of a rapist), gang rape, and political or wartime rape. They deal with rape in all societies and in all times. Indeed, rape goes back to biblical times (see 2 Samuel 13).

It is generally agreed that rape (namna ya mbegu zenye mafuta in Swahili) is non-consensual sexual activity. It involves having sex with an unconscious or resistant person.

The seriousness of rape lies, at least to a great extent, in the long-term pain and damage it inflicts upon its victim. The biblical story referred to above closes with Amnon hating his sister Tamar, whom he has raped, and their brother Absalom planning to kill Amnon. But "Tamar remained desolate in her brother’s Absalom’s house." Rape may, unfortunately, be a few moments experience in the life of the perpetrator. It may result in a life-time of shame and guilt, hampered health and dreams, for the victim.

Rape may be a one-time offense and blot in the life of a man, or it may be a habitual pattern of a pathologically disturbed monster, some of whom take rape to the violent and perverted extreme of becoming serial killers. Rape, even gang rape, has been considered a sport by some otherwise highly respected university students, athletes, or even leaders of a society, and it is a terribly nasty footnote in the history of military campaigns.

The rape of African slaves by white slave traders and then slave owners reached such an extent as to have permanently mixed the races and scarred the American psyche. Widespread rape of Chinese women by Japanese soldiers is documented, as was the rape of Jewish women by Nazi soldiers, and Vietnamese women by American soldiers, and Asian women by Kenyans during the 1982 coup attempt. More recently Muslim women in Bosnia suffered sexual assault at the hands of "Christian" Serbs. Sarah Elderkin, writer for the Nation, goes so far as to say: "All wars that have ever taken place have been accompanied by rape on a huge scale."

Although there is male rape (of men by men especially among prison populations) and occasional rape of a man or boy by a woman, rape is primarily an aggression of men against women. There is some debate as to the relative motivations of male dominance and male lust in this offense. Some feminist writers go so far as to say that rape has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power. Most of the current opinion does understand rape in terms of a male need to dominate. In a society that has increasingly de-valued brute male strength in daily life, but glorifies male violence in some athletics and movies, some men may feel the need to prove their physical superiority and position of power. This is how Elderkin analyzes this crime:


The most common mistake made in discussing or understanding rape in general is that it is a crime of sexual release or uncontrollable urges—a crime fired by passion.

Extensive research by psychologists, criminologists and others…has shown…that rape is a complete sexual aberration, something that owes almost nothing to genuine lusting and almost everything to some men’s need to prove their power over, and perhaps hate and contempt for, women.

A man who rapes can rape any female. He does not need to find her sexually attractive. Cases in Kenya have shown that rape victims include tiny babies only weeks old and grizzled old grannies in their 90s. No one can pretend that they were raped because of their sexual appeal.

It is not primarily sex that motivates rapists, for rape is a crime not of sex but of violence. Sex only provides the vehicle some men need to subject their victims to humiliation, degradation and terror.


There are some, particularly men, who might say that Elderkin’s next paragraph weakens her argument, who would argue that there are degrees of the pathology of rape…that there are those who rape out of anger (remember Eldridge Cleaver’s Souls on Ice) or contempt for whom power is a primary motivation, and some men who may be bursting with lust in given situations using power to accomplish their means. Here is what Elderkin goes on to say:


The frightening thing for women is that history has shown that even nice men they might think they know—who will say, for instance, that they could never rape a woman, and they cannot understand men who do—could themselves, like all other men, commit rape if the circumstances were right.


Though Elderkin claims her article is not "a diatribe against men," the cynical overtones in this paragraph seem evident. Certainly the prevalence and horror of male dehumanizing of women through rape permits a good measure of anger and cynicism from women. But in the calmness and objectivity needed for careful analysis, we may need to distinguish between male and female experience and understanding of sexuality as well as varieties of rape. Such an opinion, however, cannot be permitted to lessen the severity of the crime no matter what the situation. Rape is a violent intrusion and violation of one’s selfhood often resulting in permanent damage.

The horror of this epidemic is noted by Margaret Were:


Women are no longer safe. It does not matter whether one is a little girl of six, a teenage girl of 16, a middle-aged women of 36 or a grandmother of 66. The point is that they are female and a definite target for rapists.

Incidents of rape and defilement have suddenly increased. In the past few moths, both the local and international media have chronicled more and more cases of rape. Chillingly, it has now become apparent that rapists in Kenya no longer have to wait for the darkest and most isolated venue to rape. They now own rape dens that operate even in broad daylight.


This article goes on to describe gangs like the "Dream Team" (as they call themselves) who rape openly in Makadara and Jericho, a gang known as "Mobimba" in Eastlands, and others in Buru Buru, in estates like Dandora and Kayole, as well as those who stalk Uhuru Park at night. A further article describes the street men who operate ruthlessly in a passageway between Coffee Plaza and the deserted Kenya Railways loading block which opens onto Haile Selassie Avenue. Occupants of the Coffee Plaza building have screamed to no avail as they watched what was happening to women in the alley below…watching well dressed office ladies who ran with tattered dresses into the street crowd knowing there was little they could do.

Joyce Tesot tells how "girls drop out of school after they have been raped by men who never went to school." Mueni Kilonzo told the writer how "nobody cares about anyone" in the slums of Kibera, and even parents "do not care" about taking action against rapists who defile their young daughters.


She gave the example of one man living near Glory Primary School who recently took an eight-year-old girl to his house, raped her for two days, and effectively imprisoned her.

When some villagers finally came to rescue the girl, the rapist armed with knives quipped; "Mnamtoa manyanga yangu kwa nyumba kwa nini (Why are you taking away my young sweetheart from my house)?"

The eight-year-old victim is just one among many other rape cases which have led to premature pregnancies and dropping out of school.


These articles discuss the disadvantage of girls generally, police indifference or even rudeness which makes rape victims suffer twice, and the permanent scars that can be left from childhood abuse and adult rape. This social outrage is a challenge that must be met.



  1. What bothers you most from these articles? What first needs discussion?
  2. What about this issue needs further study and discussion?
  3. What, do you think, can be done about this growing problem in all societies?



  1. No matter to what degree unmet male sexual passion is involved in a particular rape, in all cases rape is a terrible abuse of power and, especially in the case of children, of trust. It is a problem that no society can afford to overlook.
  2. Male-dominated societies have not done well at all by rape victims. These victims need professionally trained female physicians, counselors and police officers to serve them. Laws and criminal justice must work to defend these victims.
  3. Prevention of this epidemic must center in the way we socialize boys and girls, the influence of a sex-obsessed and violence-obsessed media, the taste for violence and sex among consumers, and the education children receive in families, communities, schools and churches.

Dean Borgman cCYS