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Fighting Sexual Violence With A Shaky Pen

notepad-penBy: Lydia Matata
My name is Lydia Matata, 25, this is my second year as a professional journalist. I stumbled upon my first ‘rape’ story sometime in February 2013 while covering an article on abortion
During the interview with a group pro-choice advocates I overheard a side conversation between two of my interviewees about how widespread and normalised gang-rapes have become in the slums within which there organizations are based.
It is from here that I stumbled into the Dandora slums. As a female born and bred in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, I have always known – albeit vaguely that my safety as a woman is at no time guaranteed. I know from newspaper articles and the statistics I gathered for my uni projects. To truly know means it happened to you or you at least live and work closely with the multitudes that it happened to with full knowledge of that instance of rape or defilement.
The day I visited Dandora, to interview young girls, who were victims of Kuchotwa, gang rape so rampant and normalized in their young lives that it isn’t referred to as rape, but a slang word meaning ‘scooped up’, in a rough translation from Kiswahili to English. When I broke the story in the article Dandora’s Most Chilling Secret – Gang Rape On The Rise (published in The Star Newspaper on March 12,2013) that was the beginning of knowing.
Ever since that story I have hungered to truly know. For Rape and the Elusive P3 Form(The Star Newspaper, December 17,2013 ) I went into other slums, from Mathare to Kibera, I visited police stations, and women’s organizations and lastly the infamous police doctor’s office at the Traffic Police Headquarters.
From the rape victims in these slums, the organizations advocating for their rights and the authorities who were supposed to protect them, I learned about the system that fails victims.
The system ensures their silence; It begins at the police stations where they are ridiculed, blamed for the violation committed to them or slapped with demands for a bribe so high that they are shut out from the system indefinitely. For those who push on despite this, there is a line at the police doctor’s office in Nairobi. Think of a queue in the most populous country for one of its largest elections, then remove the voters, and replace them with victims of battery and sexual assault. Arriving as early as 4am will not guarantee you even spot number 20 on the police doctor’s line. It does not assure you of a chance to meet the doctor before doors close at 2pm.
My pen, notepad and I have also chronicled the stories of girls, women some of them with physical and mental disabilities who have been abused repeatedly by relatives and strangers alike. However the more stories I do, the more I wonder about the impact if any.
Rape in Kenya is normalized. People have become indifferent to stories of victims and the systems that will forever stunt there growth and life as victims. I know more now, but am I doing enough?
Can a pen and notepad make a difference?
*Lydia Matata is a 25 year-old Kenyan journalism student.

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