Gender-Based Violence refers to the harmful acts perpetrated against an individual based on their gender. This includes; physical, mental, sexual or economic harm inflicted on an individual. According to the report of the Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre, 1 in 3 females has experienced sexual violence before the age of 18 years. Furthermore, between 39% and 47% of Kenyan women experience GBV in their lifetime. On the other hand, 1 in every 5 Kenyan males has experienced an episode of sexual violence before attaining 18 years. 4% of married men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime while 11% of men have experienced either domestic or sexual violence from their partner.
The Police are the first contact of survivors of GBV in the Criminal Justice System. The role of the police is stipulated in the duty bearers’ handbook. It includes; preventing the occurrence and recurrence of GBV, documenting GBV cases, preserving and collecting evidence, investigating GBV cases, apprehending perpetrators, protecting witnesses and survivors, providing a referral to survivors and working with the Office of the DPP to ensure expeditious prosecution of perpetrators.
The Police Gender Desks play a major role in addressing cases of Gender-Based Violence. They have not only enabled victims to seek justice with dignity but also with high levels of privacy and confidentiality. Imagine if GBV cases were to be reported in the open; this was the situation at the Kaptembwo police station in Nakuru. Most victims would be discouraged to report GBV cases owing to the victim shaming and victim-blaming.
A 2013 Baseline Report on Knowledge, Attitude and Practices of Sexual Gender-Based Violence highlighted the shortcomings of the Police force in combating GBV. This is a report based on Police Stations in Kasarani, Kibera, Starehe, Kariobangi and Makadara. It not only highlighted the challenges the police are faced with but also the ineffectiveness of the police in handling gender-based violence cases.
The police encounter; shortage of human resources, inadequate infrastructure in that most police stations are congested, the lack of equipment such as motor vehicles and ICT challenges. The police have also been inefficient in handling GBV cases. It is reported that victims are always demanded to bribe the police before suspects are arrested and the issuance of P3 forms. Moreover, GBV cases are recorded poorly. Most are recorded as assault or indecent assault irrespective of whether it was a rape or defilement.
In addition, police officers have failed to handle GBV cases with professionalism. At times they ask irrelevant questions, are rude and insensitive to the victims. Additionally, after these interviews, most police officers neither record the victim’s testimonies nor visit the scene of the crime. Furthermore, GBV victims are not afforded any privacy due to the lack of private spaces in some stations. This is coupled with humiliation and has thus discouraged survivors from reporting. Lastly, some cases reach the police but the entries disappear in the Occurrence Book. Therefore, the victim never accesses justice and the perpetrators walk away scot-free targeting the next victim or even the same victim.
Additionally, the police discriminate against some victims especially the LGBTI community. A 2015 Human Rights Watch report indicates that between 2008 and 2015, at least 6 incidents of violence perpetrated against sexual and gender minorities occurred in the Kenyan Coast.Nonetheless, the police have not arrested any perpetrator concerning these incidents. Worse still, when this community reports GBV cases, the police harass them, thus they chose not to report.
The police also conduct arbitrary arrests or even at times perpetuate the violence themselves. One male sex worker alleged to have been raped by five police officers during their patrols. They drove around Mombasa with the victim and later charged him with nuisance and loitering. Another 20-year-old gay man was gang-raped in 2011. When he reported to Nyali police station, the police refused to hear and record his complaint and stated that he deserved whatever he got. This is inhumane, demeaning, and a violation of the protective role of the police.
The fight against gender-based violence is unlikely to succeed without the effort of the police. There is still a long way to go to actualize the objective, “Utumishi Kwa Wote.”