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Scars of Violence One Year Later


It's been said silence is golden - not here in Nairobi's Kibera slum.

Kibera is Africa's largest slum and home to an estimated one million people. Last year at this time, it was also home to some of the most intense violence following Kenya's disputed presidential elections.

Today, the affects of that violence linger in the sewage-lined streets and tin-roofed shacks. It's loudest in the five buildings that act as CARE International sexual violence reporting centers.

Established early in 2008, these centers act as safe havens - places where survivors can gather and speak openly about their attacks.

"We went into the urban areas that were highly-affected by post-election violence," says Beatrice Spadacini, a spokeswoman for CARE International in Nairobi. "But as the violence calmed down, that's when the issue of rape started to emerge."

The violence that plunged Kenya into turmoil last year not only left 1,500 dead and 600,000 displaced. According to the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya, it also resulted in an estimated 3,000 rapes.

Over of a year later, these women are not only dealing with the physical and emotional damage caused by their perpetrators. They are seeking justice. Even though it's slow coming, they refuse to stay silent.

"Once you have a law in place, that's something you can't take for granted," says Spadacini. "But the implementation of that law and actually prosecuting is a whole different story."

That story began on Dec. 30, 2007, when incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared re-elected despite challenges from his opponent, Raila Odinga. Riots erupted in the streets that involved ethic violence, particularly between the Kikuyu and Luo.

At the Nairobi Women's Hospital, the doctors were overwhelmed. In the first two days of violence, the hospital's chief nurse reported treating 56 assaulted women and children and feared they weren't reaching hundreds of others.

"Immediately after the violence, their medical needs were primary," says Spadacini. "Then there were the legal issues and how to get these women justice."

Kenya's Sexual Offenses Act was passed in 2006. Before this, the law lacked a clear definition of rape or guidelines for sentencing. The new law has been difficult to implement - but the post-election violence provided a particular challenge because of the chaos and sheer number of victims.

CARE went to work establishing reporting centers. Soon, the women began showing up. In all the centers have collected 300 testimonies - in 60, the reported perpetrators were members of the Kenyan military.

"If they want to file, they can do so confidentially," says Spadacini. "Unfortunately, a lot have been perpetrated by law enforcement agencies so they are afraid."

Unfortunately, a year later, only four men have been brought to trial.

None have been convicted.

Still, the women gather at the reporting centers - that's where Spadacini says their courage comes through despite the impunity. The women provide each other with the emotional assistance and the group gatherings ensure they do not feel isolated. Many have since tested positive for HIV - at the centers, councilors help them with treatment and therapy to deal with their new status.

As well, Spadacini says the women have set up a loan program where they pool their monthly savings and donate it to individual women. This helps each of them rebuild their homes and businesses destroyed during the violence.

Most importantly, it ensures the women do not remain silent.

"I spoke with one woman who was raped and is now HIV positive," she Spadacini. "She told me, 'I am a Kenyan. I have the right to speak. And I'm going to for the sake of other women so that no one stays silent on these issues."

That way, even when justice fails, the women don't.