I was 16 when I went to a member of parliament’s office to collect money for my education. I entered the room as a young girl full of hope and excitement for the future. Stripped of my innocence, I left in fear of the world and the people around me.
Sexual violence against children has become a silent global scourge. It is destroying the future of children and adolescents around the world. In my country, Kenya, the problem is particularly acute.
And when I say “problem,” I’m not talking only about crime. We also talk about our response to that.
After being raped, I felt completely alone. I had no one to help me deal with the physical effects violent abuse had on my body. There was no one to hold my hand and help me through my heartbreak. No one helped me at school, so my mind was constantly playing the moment I was paid for sex.
Growing up, I never dreamed that I would end up doing what I do now. My childhood ambition to set up a safehouse for victims of sexual violence never existed, but in 2014 I did it and founded Maisha Safehouse for Girls in Nairobi.It was not my mission to co-found brave move And as we continue to unite survivors around the world in the fight against pedophile violence, I have done it too…
From my experience, this path was inevitable. I couldn’t stand by as other children had to navigate their post-sexual assault life on their own, just like I did. I could not see governments in our country, and governments around the world, all states shirking their responsibility to protect children and support survivors. And on a personal level, I couldn’t heal my own trauma without helping others heal from it.
So what is wrong with our response to childhood sexual violence?
A key problem, especially in societies where sexual violence remains taboo, is the neglect of the physical and medical needs of survivors, including children.
It’s easy to jump right into the pursuit of justice and focus on questions like “How can she get justice?” or “Has his abuser been caught?” Justice, as such, is vital to the safety and healing of others. However, the focus solely on law enforcement and court proceedings can result in the forgetting of the urgent comprehensive health response that children need after a violation. As a result, reserving resources for this response is also forgotten.
The physical effects of rape are severe. I have frequently seen young girls physically damaged by rape.
Many of the girls I work with have become pregnant as a result of the abuse they have endured. Every day, I witness the physical effects of pregnancy on my children’s bodies. Every day, I witness the physical and mental struggles they face as they navigate the long nine months of pregnancy. A 12-year-old girl going into labor can be life-threatening. And even if she survives, her recovery is often slow and painful. She has difficulty running, playing, dancing, or even walking properly like a child.
Here in Kenya and elsewhere, most children are forced to stay pregnant until their due date, partly because the babies they give birth to can be pursued against abusers. to serve as evidence in a criminal case. But what price does evidence and justice pay? At the expense of a child’s mental and physical health? To me, it never does justice.
The second area where we fail our children has to do with invisible scars. The emotional scars of sexual violence last a lifetime.
It is a pain that does not abate over time, and rather intensifies as the child is silenced, humiliated, and isolated.
I know this because I have experienced this pain too. As I got older, the pain got worse. I realized that someone in power was taking advantage of me when I was helpless and vulnerable. I realized that it was the power that silenced me, was afraid to ask for help, knew that his money would easily win an acquittal, and jeopardize my case. I started to get angry.
Instead of healing and moving forward, I built a wall around myself. A shield that I thought would protect me from people who might try to hurt me again in the future. But I was alone in that wall. The shield didn’t protect me. it locked me in.
My quiet, lonely suffering was not uncommon. The trauma of sexual violence has kept victims silent for decades. In Kenya, only two out of five women who experienced childhood sexual violence tell someone about the incident. And even if they raise their voices 10.7 percent You can get sexual assault services.
To make matters worse, many countries have a statute of limitations, or criminal statute of limitations, on prosecuting child sexual abuse crimes.valiant exercise recently published a report about how these restrictions allow child abusers in Europe to remain active into old age and deny survivors access to justice.
While there are no such legal restrictions on criminal cases in Kenya, there are many social restrictions and barriers to reporting pedophile violence. The failure of governments and authorities to protect children from sexual violence is shocking, but even more shameful is the deliberate perpetuation of stigmas that discredit young women’s and children’s words. That’s it.
Finally, there is no justice without reparation.
It is a mistake to say that justice is served when perpetrators are imprisoned. Children who have suffered sexual violence are deprived of their future. Their education is suspended. They are shunned by the community. They have no resources, no income, and are left with babies to feed.
Justice can only be achieved if survivors are given the financial and social support to get their lives back. And it must come from those responsible for creating a society in which children cannot grow up safely.
I have walked many times to the hospital with abused girls. He held hands in court with children forced to confront their abusers. A weapon for teenagers who have been kicked out of their homes and have no one to turn to.
My government, like many countries around the world, is letting children down. If people in positions of power take care of children, all children will be safe, play and go to school. They wouldn’t be standing in the corridors of the courtroom breastfeeding their babies.
Now is the time to use our collective voice to demand action. I call on all child caregivers in Kenya and beyond to work together to build a society that does not tolerate sexual violence. I also urge you to work together to ensure that all victims everywhere have the support they need and deserve.
Only then can we ensure that our daughters, sons, students, friends, brothers and every young person in our lives are safe, free and reach their full potential.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.