On September 29th 2015, the Daily Nation reported the tragic death of a 19 year old girl who committed suicide because someone she met online and later in person threatened to reveal her nude photos online. Read the story full here. It is tragic when a young girl, with dreams and potential takes her own life because she is being exploited.
Mercy, like any other young girl her age was on social media to find friends and even love. She had no idea that this is where her trap lay. A trap that would eventually lead to her death. She met someone on Facebook and later organized to meet them on a date. We have no idea what exactly happened but we know that this man by the name Marco Ritz sexually abused her, according to her death note, to the point that she needed medical help. Unfortunately because she had been warned about this man by the people that surrounded her, she had no one to turn to when things went sour. She had to handle the pain alone and that pain overwhelmed her to the point that she felt suicide was the only option.
As I read, Mercy’s story I could not help but feel anger. I am angry that this had to happen and unfortunately might continue to happen if we continue handling such situations in the same way. Nowhere in this article does the author mention that Mercy, if her story is correct, like many other young people was a victim of trafficking. No one, identifies her as such in the numerous comments that follow the story. This is mainly because like many other victims of trafficking Mercy suffered in silence and even blamed herself because of a crime she had no knowledge had been committed. Mercy was a victim of a form of sex trafficking that has emerged with the advancement of technology. Traffickers target vulnerable people and begin relationships with them and later use things like nude photos to control them and ensure that they remain silent about what happened to them.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have become part and parcel of how we socialize today. The fact that they can be used by traffickers is not a surprise because human trafficking is an organism that is constantly adapting and constantly evolving depending on what is happening around us. What is sad is that traffickers seem to be always ahead of the society in this battle. They know a few things that we don’t know. You just need to read Mercy’s story and the comments that follow to note the following things:
- People lack awareness of the complex nature of human trafficking and traffickers take advantage of the fact that they will rarely if ever be identified as criminals because the society does not understand the crime. Mercy is not being called a victim of trafficking neither did she see herself as such.
- Victimization of victims of trafficking is an impediment to them speaking up or seeking help that they desperately need and traffickers understand this. Mercy blamed herself for what happened to her and you only need to read the comments to understand that this opinion is shared by many people. People claimed that she brought this upon herself for wanting a better life. Blaming the victim has always been an issue in counter-trafficking efforts because as a long as you blame the victim, the criminal will always get away. Traffickers understand how the society perceives certain things and they understand that if they can distort our ability to identify victims they will always get away.
- Silence of the victims also plays a huge role in the fight against human trafficking. When the victims are silent like Mercy, we cannot offer help and perpetrators get away. However, when victims don’t understand that they have been exploited and cannot trust that they will be protected, they will remain silent. Silence is heaven to the trafficker and they will do everything in their power to keep victims silent. They understand the value of silence and we don’t understand the power of victims’ voices.
Mercy could not be saved, but her story teach us to be able to identify trafficking and to understand that it is within our power to stop human trafficking. If you or anyone has gone through something similar, then it is important to know that you can get help. HAART is an organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking and helping girls like Mercy.
Rest in peace Mercy.
By Sophie Otiende
Recently we received an email from a lady who is currently in Saudi Arabia, we subsequently corresponded with her and tried to find out her situation and to what extant we can help. She gave us permission to share her story, so below you can read it with just her name changed:
I’m Janet* and I’m working in Saudi Arabia. I wanted to inquire if upon my return you can use me to create awareness in the grassroots level and anywhere else you want to let people know that this is modern slavery. The situation here is so bad and many are embarrassed to share with the community.
We are lured because of lack of employment but its better to work at home than in any middle east country. I have been communicating with many women and the situation is worse because many young girls are now the target of trafficking.
We asked her if she had tried reporting the case and see if she could get help, this is what she said:
I have all the contacts I’m sorry to inform you that they don’t help anyone. I reported some case early this year of a girl who was being mistreated and nothing ever happened. The girl finally had to run away and report to the police. She stayed in custody for two months and wad transferred to the deportation centre. Later on she was deported and her salary areas for one year was slashed into two. She was paid half. No one ever wants to associate themselves with this issue. The best way is to let people know the truth about this place.
It is very sad that we cannot help Janet with much since there is very little we can do in Saudi Arabia, but once she comes back we will try to help her in the small ways we can. We did, however, get in contact with the girl who had come home and we are now trying to provide her with some assistance.
By Jakob Christensen
Seventy seven cases of child sexual defilements cases have been recorded at the Mtwapa Health Center since January 2015[i]. Of these only 10 are before court, or have had convictions. These are reported cases. Just how many cases remain unreported is a mystery. This is seen in the light of the fact that “less than one percent out of every females or males who experienced sexual, physical, or emotional violence as a child knows of a place to go to seek professional help[ii]”In fact the statistics are grimmer in taking into cognizance the fact that cultural barriers and local face-saving attitudes held by village elders makes it very difficult to get justice for a child who has faced sexual violence.
Sexual violence reported in the coastal region at three centers are: Coast Provincial General Hospital from August 2007 to Feb 2015 – 5,464 survivors of sexual violence; Kilifi District Hospital-June 2013 425 to Feb 2015 – 493 and Mtwapa Health Centre-104 (June 2013 to Feb 2015 – 137[iii]), both adult and children. These statistics are yet again, for reported cases alone! We can only imagine the numbers if it included unreported cases.
It is important to note that Trace Kenya and Safe Community Youth Initiative only get complaints from mothers whose children have been defiled by their relatives when they do not benefit from the process of arbitration. Statements like “I did not benefit at all because the elders ate kanjama”[iv]. Are quite common when they report the cases. The welfare of the child is not a priority. Usually, at that moment all evidence of the defilement is lost, unless of course the child is infected by sexually transmitted infections or HIV and Aids.
Mtwapa, in Kilifi County like Bombolulu in Mombasa report worrying cases of incest and defilement – especially on school holidays. Perpetrators are believed to be mainly people that abuse drugs and alcohol in the area. Sauti Ya Wamama organization in Mombasa has been working closely with other stakeholders in fighting sexual abuse in the region. However, they lament the lack of information by parents, worsened by loose marriage relationships people engage in the two counties.
Kenya Demographic Heath Survey show that violence against children is represented by 32% of females and 18% of males aged 18-24 years. It also shows that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence for females and males were found to be boyfriends/ girlfriends/ romantic partners comprising 47% and 43% respectively followed by neighbors, 27% and 21% respectively. National Statistics[v] conducted between November 2008 and February 2009 indicate that a total of 13.3% of women reported having been sexually violated while a further 39.0% reported having been physically violated by a spouse within that year .The study showed that: 12% of women 15-49 report that their first sexual intercourse was forced; 1 in 5 Kenyan women have experienced sexual violence; Almost half (45% of women 15-49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence; 6.3% of Kenyan adults 15-49 are infected with HIV ; and that prevalence in women age 15-49 is 8.0% while for men same age bracket it is 4.3%
Even with an array of legal frameworks for protection of persons from sexual violence such as Constitution, 2010; Penal Code; Sexual Offences Act,2006; HIV Prevention and Control Act, 2006; Children Act , 2001; Basic Education Act; Anti Female Genital Mutilation Act; Counter trafficking in persons Act, 2010; Witness protection Act, 2010; Employment Act- sec 6; Marriage Act, 2014; Security Act, 2014; Victim Protection Act, 2014 there is still rampant violence especially directed at children in many communities.
Besides the cultural barrier mentioned earlier, ignorance and lack of information by communities put them at risk. For instance “Less than 10% of females and males who experienced sexual, physical or emotional violence as a child actually received some form of professional help” Says Elizabeth Aroka, a consultant on Gender Based Violence in Mombasa. She adds that “Three out of every ten females 30% aged 18 to 24 who reported experiencing unwanted completed intercourse before the age of 18 (i.e., sex that was physically forced or pressured) became pregnant as a result. And that among females aged 18 to 24 who experienced sexual violence as a child; about 7% had received money for sex compared to 2% of those who did not experience violence prior to age 18”[vi].
The cultural space of a woman places her at a disadvantage when “Over half females and males age 18 to 24, regardless of whether they experienced violence prior to 18, believe that it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife. Furthermore, 40% of females and 50% of males believed that a woman should tolerate spousal violence in order to keep her family together”. Experience by Trace Kenya and other stakeholders on the ground indicate that girls are particularly susceptible to sexual violence at home. Culture denies boys from reporting cases of sexual violence, and hence they are only found to be violated when they are showing signs of such violation, usually too late to mitigate against HIV and Aids.
Sexual violence is well defined by the various legal regimes as inter alia: defilement (with reference to children); Attempted defilement; Rape; Gang rape; attempted rape; Indecent act with a child; Promotion of sexual offences with a child; child trafficking; child sex tourism; child prostitution; child pornography. Child trafficking is clearly defined as a violation of children rights and this is the reason why the awareness created by Trace Kenya and the pursuit for justice we constantly engage in is very pertinent.
Guest blog by Paul Adhoch
Paul Adhoch is the Executive Director of Trace Kenya who is an NGO working to fight human trafficking in Kenya and a partner of HAART Kenya.
[i] Safe Community Youth Initiative reports 2015/Mtwapa Gender Recovery Unity
[ii] Equirights Consultants, Mombasa.
[iii] SGBV Recovery centers 2015
[iv] Complaining not about justice for the child, but the fact that she was excluded from the blood money or compensation shared out by elders.
[v] Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS)
[vi] Information from KHDS 2010
Watch the video below from Italy, a notorious destination country for African sex trafficking victims.
Sounds like a simple enough question doesn’t it? It isn’t.
For some people, the answer to this question is easy; two people choosing to engage in a sexual relationship equals to consensual sex, as opposed to a situation where one person is forced to have sex which is rape. However, the seemingly clear distinction is often not as simple as one would think, especially when it comes to victims of human trafficking.
Victims of human trafficking frequently come from vulnerable situations of poverty, violence, physical and sexual abuse, all looking for a better future. In this context, often, the person (girl or boy, man or women) has been shown by people around them that their bodies exist for another person’s pleasure, and that they do not have a say in the matter. With this in mind, the distinction between consensual sex and rape is not as clear. When we speak to people who have been trafficked, they often do not talk about the sexual or physical abuse, but the money that has been withheld from them.
Here are some questions that can make the distinction between consensual sex and rape clearer;
- If a person did not want to have sex but was made to is that rape? YES
- If a person does not want to have sex but doesn’t think they can say no is that rape? YES
- If a person was forced to have sex but did not fight back, is that rape? YES
- Is forced sex in a marital relationship rape? YES
- Is sex with a minor rape? YES
- If the person who forced you someone you know, is it still rape? YES
- Is forcing a sex worker to have sex rape? YES
Consent means that both people in a sexual encounter must agree to it, and either person may decide at any time that they no longer consent and want to stop the activity.
Consenting to one behaviour does not obligate you to consent to any other behaviours. Consenting on one occasion also does not obligate you to consent on any other occasion.
Rape is a serious matter that can leave a person suffering, often in silence, with painful physical and psychological effects. The person may feel frightened, guilty, angry, ashamed, sad, hurt, and may have problems eating and sleeping. The first step in dealing with these difficult feelings is knowing what rape is and that it is never the fault of the victim.
It does not matter if they dressed a certain way, at a certain place, drunk, alone, or flirting.
Rape is never okay and it is never the fault of the victim.
Non-consensual sex is rape, and rape is a crime.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, remember that with time, and support, it is possible to heal. You have survived the hardest part on your own and you do not have to do the rest alone.
By Yasmin Manji