Many survivors or victims of sexual violence live their entire lives- post trauma, in pursuit of justice but unfortunately only a small percentage ever get this fulfilled. It is vital to note that getting justice is an important step in their journey to recovery or healing after their ordeal or experience. For most survivors, seeing the abuse or violence inflicted on them acknowledged and validated, their abuser or perpetrator punished and even getting an apology is what they need in order to move forward with their lives.
I have interacted with many survivors who have disclosed to me that they feel as if their life came to a standstill after their traumatic experience and it in fact became their identity. This also plays a significant role as to one evolving from being a victim to being a survivor. What are some of the challenges that affect survivors of sexual and/or gender based violence accessing the justice they deserve?
Some of the hindrances facing access to justice include systems that are inherently against us, female survivors. Some of the laws, customs and traditions that are in existence right now are biased and extremely harmful to women.
In Sudan, rape is categorized as Zina, adultery and fornication, and the crime falls on the woman, not the rapist. A woman can be prosecuted for being raped, because when she is raped, it means that she has had sex, even though it was not consensual, outside marriage. So if the rape survivor was not married, she will be tried for fornication, and if she was married and the rapist is not her husband, she is tried and charged with adultery. Despite consistent feminist efforts calling for Sudan’s law reforms, little has been done to remedy this oppressive situation and guarantee gender justice. Negotiating Islamic Laws
In Kenya, while we have made great strides in advocacy and protection of women through enactment of several legislation such as the Sexual Offences Act, the Protection against Domestic Violence Act, Matrimonial Property Act and so on, we still have a lot wanting and needing to be addressed. For example, Article 43(5) of the Sexual Offences Act specifically exempts the incrimination of marital rape. So how do women in sexually abusive marriages access justice?
In December 2017, there was an out pour of rage from feminists all over the world following the pardoning of two child rapists by the Tanzanian President, Magufuli. This pardoning coincided with a call by the president for pregnant pupils to be arrested and forcibly taken to court. He also banned pregnant students from going back to school and continuing with their studies thus denying them their right to education. Considering the age of these pregnant students, it is obvious that their pregnancies were as a result of rape/defilement. So why are they being punished instead of their rapists? What message are we sending to survivors of sexual violence when their perpetrators are pardoned and set free?
In Kenya, there is a backlog of cases and this leads to survivors opting out of seeking justice because more often than not the journey is expensive and cumbersome and it takes a long time. Survivors are constantly called in to retell their ordeal yet the case doesn’t seem to make any progress. Most survivors give up before a judgement is made. The system is against survivors, from the reporting at the police station to the judicial journey. We have cases that have been thrown out of court because the police report had gaps, or the form wasn’t filled properly by the doctor. It is unfair to survivors that they are denied justice because of technical mistakes by professionals. All duty bearers involved in this process are obligated to perform excellently and follow due process to guarantee justice.
I am currently working on a detailed research paper on access to justice for survivors of sexual and gender based violence which I hope to share once complete. We must all take up our roles in ensuring protection of survivor’s rights and access to justice.