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Carrying the psychological trauma of sex abuse survivors

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“Let me just go, get knocked down by a car and die,” was the outburst of a 17-year-old girl three months ago during a counselling session with Ms Isabel Kuto, a Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) counsellor.

The girl, who had been defiled by a stranger, was halfway through the counselling session when she burst out, wailing uncontrollably.

Every month, Ms Kuto handles an average of seven of sexual violence cases. She says that some of the survivors are so traumatised that they see no reason for the psychotherapy sessions.

The same goes for the psychotherapist when she cannot handle the devastation and pain her patients have suffered. “It’s painful. It’s harrowing,” she says.

She has counselled adults and minors from Mukuru kwa Njenga, Mathare and Mukuru Kayaba slums in Nairobi.

In 80 per cent of defilement and anal sex attack cases she has handled, survivors say the perpetrators are known to them. “Sexual violence has a huge psychological impact on the SGBV survivors,” she adds.


“They hate themselves, blame themselves and blame God for the ordeal. It takes time before they can be free from the psychological trauma,” Ms Kuto.


It takes patience and understanding to counsel a survivor of sexual violence as the experience cuts deep into their hearts, adds the counsellor.

“Some will speak one word and go silent because the painful memories are running through their mind,” she states.

Dr Daniel Odongo, a medical doctor attached to the SGBV centre at Mater Hospital, Nairobi, says handling sexual violence patients is distressing.

He gave an example of a man who had been drugged and sexually abused.

Most sexual violence patients, the doctor says, seek medical attention when the psychological trauma is at peak.

“They come when they have reached the point of desperation and are in need of urgent help. We understand they are at their delicate moments and we attend to them with utmost care,” Dr Odongo says.


In addition to carrying the weight of psychological trauma, survivors of sexual violence seeking justice bear an extra burden of litigation costs.

For instance, a survivor would incur Sh33,000 in legal fees should she or he proceed to court, based on the findings of economic burden on GBV survivors contained in the Gender-Based Violence in Kenya: The Economic Burden on Survivors, 2016 report by the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC).

Statistics from the 2014 Kenya Health and Demographic Survey show one per cent difference of GBV occurrence in men and women, an indication of high vulnerabilities of both genders to the crime.

According to the survey, the GBV prevalence rates among the women stand at 45 per cent against the 44 per cent for men.


In eliminating the social problem from the Kenyan society, advocates for social change suggest implementation of programmes that address challenges of both men and women.

“In all programmes including those addressing sexual violence, men must be at the core of the discussions because without them, women cannot make sustainable progress or growth,” states Dr Agnes Abuom, a gender expert and Moderator of the World Council of Churches Central Committee.