NAIROBI, Kenya / Associated Press / Sexual Abuse / May 12, 2010
By Tom Odula, Associated Press Writer
A two-finger poke to the eyes, a punch to the solar plexus, a kick to
the groin, then turn and run, the instructor barks.
treated 437 rape victims older than 60 last year.
In the sludge-covered alleyways of the Korogocho
slum, 50 women, many of them grandmothers, have enrolled in twice-a-week
self-defense classes at a run-down community center. The women say they
must rely on themselves because the police rarely patrol the dark paths
that wind through the maze of iron-roofed shanties. When suspected
rapists are reported to the police, they often bribe their way to
freedom, the women say.
At the Korogocho community hall, elderly women clad
in headscarves, long
skirts and petticoats pound punching bags with the heels of their
"No, no, no!" screams 70-year-old Mary Wangui as she
pounds the heavy hitting pad. Her open-palm blows force a 20-something
instructor, Sheila Kariuki, to fall backward. A group of around 30 women
between the ages of 50 and 80 cheer on Wangui as they wait their turn.
"When we hit the pad with an open palm we are
training to target the nose, the solar plexus or the groin to hurt an
attacker so that it can give you a chance to escape. Shouting 'no'
repetitively is meant to draw the attention of people so that they can
assist you," said Wangui, who has been training for almost two years.
"Don't feel any mercy. Was he coming to read the
Bible with you?" Kariuki asks the women.
One of the causes of elderly rape is a belief by
criminals that intercourse with an elderly women can cure them of AIDS. Others think that
raping an elderly woman will cleanse their sins after committing crimes,
Ten elderly women have been raped and killed the last
two years in Korogocho, but no suspects have been arrested, Kariuki
said. Many other rapes are believed to have taken place but not
Elizabeth Olwenya is a grandmother to four children
under the age of 5 who were orphaned after two of Olwenya's daughters
died of AIDS. The 55-year-old Olwenya was one of the first to take the
self-defense classes three years ago, and said the skills she learned
help protect her grandchildren.
"The life here is not good. People here can rape you
and even your child," said Olwenya, a widow.
Dr. Jake Sinclair, a founding member of Ujamaa, a
non-governmental organization that helps rape victims and holds the
self-defense classes, said many class members are grandmothers motivated
by the fact that they are raising their children's children. The
classes can provide protection for both generations, he said.
For the orphans to have a chance of success in life,
the grandmothers must be given skills and capital to start small
businesses, Sinclair said. High
crime rates threaten income-generating activities.
"If they lose that they have nothing," he said. "In
most cases the mothers and the fathers have died of and if the
grandmother cannot support them or protect them the kids will end up on
the streets or the Kenya
youth authority, which is like prison. If they end up on the streets it
is prostitution or thuggery."
Through a grandmother's care, the children have a
chance to finish their education and break past the barrier of poverty,
The Gender Recovery Center at the Nairobi treated
2,357 victims of rape last year. Of the 1,118 adults who were victims of
the crime, 223 women over the age of 60 — almost 20 percent of the
victims, said the center's monitoring and evaluation officer, Lillian
Kasina. National crime
statistics are lower than the hospital's numbers, because of the
stigma of reporting rape.
"Many of the reporting desks at are
manned by men who see rape as a crime of pleasure rather than seeing it
as a crime that violates women's dignity," said Harun Ndubi, a human
rights official with the group Haki Focus.
A national police spokesman, Charles Owino, said that
reports of rape in general rose in 2008 and 2009, although he would not
release statistics. He said the increase is because of more awareness
of the crime and the introduction of stronger laws against sexual
Owino said the allegation that police do not act on reported cases could
be true, and that if a police officer ignores a complaint, the victim
or her family should talk to someone higher up the chain of command.
"You can go all the way up and talk to the police commissioner," Owino said.
Julia Karinge, who is in her 80s and gets assistance from Ujamaa, said
she has been raped twice.
"I did not resist either time because I did not want to die. They killed
a friend of mine and dumped her body outside my house," said Karinge,
who is not taking the defense classes.
No arrests were made, though she reported the crime to police and could
identify her attacker.
"You need to pay them to get them to do anything," she said. [rc]
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press.