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Confronting the ghost of sexual assault

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By SIMON MBURU
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On August 16, 2018, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died aged 76. For 62 years, she had revolutionised music and immersed herself in women’s and civil rights. She had made her mark in the world.

There was no doubt that she deserved top honours in her final send off. But what occurred during her funeral service on August 31 betrayed the same ideals that Ms. Franklin had fought against.

Everything had appeared to go on well at her funeral until pop star Arianna Grande took to the stage with a rendition of Ms Franklin’s signature tune, “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”. Then things went south.

The first shots of criticism came from netizens who felt that the 25-year-old had worn a skimpy and sexually inviting dress for the function. ‘Who let Arianna Grande on stage in a mini dress? I can’t believe she came in a black church for a black funeral dressed like this!’ The criticism roared. Then the focus turned to Bill Clinton who was seated a few steps from Ms Grande. His intent stare followed her movements up and down in a manner that was largely ruled as inappropriate.

Ironically, the former US President has been accused of sexual assault, abuse and misbehaviour, on top of the affair he had with one of his employees between 1995 and 1997 while serving as president.

But this was just the tip of the iceberg. Ms. Grande was approached by Bishop Charles H. Ellis III immediately after her performance. The thrilled Bishop wrapped his arms around her as if to congratulate her for the performance.

Then he openly touched and squeezed her left breast. He later issued an apology saying that it was not his intention to touch the singer’s breast. “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar,” he said.

All this was happening at the funeral of one of the most phenomenal black women to have ever lived. The incident has gone on to become a constant reminder to women that there is no sacred place where they cannot be sexually victimised.

But this incident is only one among the rising cases and reports of sexual abuse against women around the world. Currently, in the US, Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been facing accusations of sexual assault after two women went public following his nomination to the Supreme Court.

In the first case of sexual assault, which took place in the 1980s, Kavanaugh was at a high school drinking party which Ms Christine Blasey from a nearby high school was also attending.

While in a room with her, an intoxicated Kavanaugh and another male teen turned up the music and covered Ms. Blasey’ mouth with their hands to stop her from screaming. Then Kavanaugh attempted to force himself on her. She pushed and wriggled her way out. In his defence, Kavanaugh has said that he did not sexually harass Ms Blasey because he was a virgin throughout his high school years when the incident is said to have happened.

In the second case, the alleged sexual assault by Kavanaugh on Ms. Deborah Ramirez is being widely dismissed because apparently, Ms Ramirez was drunk when Kavanaugh reportedly assaulted her.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill September 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. PHOTO| AFP

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill September 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. PHOTO| AFP

Unlike what many women are often led to assume, sexual assault does not only include genital penetration.

In Kenya, apart from rape and defilement, the Sexual Offenses Act of 2006 lists unwelcome sexual advances, groping, stripping, and indecent sexual oriented acts as amounting to sexual harassment punishable by law.

For example, in July last year, a Nairobi court sentenced bus driver Nicholas Chege, bus conductor Meshack Mwangi and fuel station attendant Edward Ndung’u to death for stripping and sexually harassing and robbing a woman in a Githurai-bound matatu.

“This sentence is a notice to uncivilised men who might think that touching a woman’s bottom without her consent is a joke,” Nairobi Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi said in his ruling.

Sexual assault is not perpetrated by any man. Dr Chris Hart, a psychologist-based in Nairobi says that there are certain types of men who will be more likely to sexually assault women, and whose characteristics you must watch keenly.

“There are men who are turned on by violence and others who are not,” he says. “Sexual predators will tend to be turned on by violence, think that a woman’s ‘No!’ means ‘Yes!’, be heavy drinkers, be verbally hostile towards women, and get turned on by rape pornography.”

Dr Hart also says that there are men who will sexually attack a woman once and stop and there are others, too, who will attack once, and proceed to become serial predators.

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Take 80-year-old American comedian Bill Cosby. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to three to 10 years prison and categorised as a sexually violent predator for drugging and sexually assaulting Ms. Andrea Constand in 2004. The punishment meted on Cosby has come as a relief to more than 60 other women who the comedian sexually assaulted over five decades. Nonetheless, Ms Constand was the only one legally allowed to press charges due to time limitation.

In Kenya, though, a victim will not be barred by time if she wanted to press charges for an incident of sexual assault that took place years ago.

Mike Macharia, a lawyer at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) says that there is no statute of limitation that can stop you from seeking legal redress regardless of how long ago the assault took place.

“One of the things the accused and his defence will try to question is why it has taken you so long to report or have the incident prosecuted, but there are ways to go round this if there is strong evidence,” he says.

To seek justice for a sexual assault incident that took place months or years back, Macharia says that you will need to file a report at the police station just as you would any other crime.

“When making the report, produce any available evidence you may have such as witness accounts or medical documents to back up your report and strengthen your case,” he says. It will also be well if you can have someone with legal knowledge file the incident with you.

Evidently, this sheds water on claims that women who come out to report having been sexually accused are not truthful. Also, Dr Hart says that there is a reason why more women are now willing to come out and speak about sexual assault.

“Some years back, the society was generally too aggressive towards women who came out to report being raped or sexually assaulted. Today, the society is more understanding, empathetic and willing to address such cases,” he says. Previously, says Dr Hart, a woman’s account of rape or sexual assault would be judged in line with what she was wearing, where she was, who she was with, and whether she was drunk or not.

“The society would shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim, but that is now changing,” he says. Nonetheless, there are certain grey areas that also lead women into silence.

“There are women like Ms. Blasey who were sexually abused as teenagers, but who now feel that they were not forced by the perpetrator to engage in a sexual act even though they were being taken advantage of,” he says. Locally, there have been cases of women who are publicly shamed and bullied on social media for saying that they have been sexually assaulted. In October last year, controversial blogger Cyprian Nyakundi made distasteful rape comments against radio presenter and rape survivor Adelle Onyango. Ms. Onyango had been raped at age 19 in Westlands while on a night out with her friends.

One of the most common forms of sexual attacks that women face is unwanted advances from strangers or acquaintances. Despite telling a man ‘No!’ he is likely to keep making advances or even increase his tempo in hope that you want him to work harder.

Ken Munyua, a psychologist based in Nairobi says that a man might mistake a woman’s message of rejection for an invitation to pursue her harder. “Men are wired not to give up in the mating game. They strongly believe that they must conquer what they pursue,” he says. But this assumption thrives on the fodder that a woman’s ‘No!’ is never strong enough. “Myths are peddled among men that a woman cannot say no strongly enough. This leads many men into thinking that women say ‘No!’ simply to test their seriousness,” says Munyua.

The ripple effect is that such men will keep making advances and sexual gestures that you do not want and might even end up raping or sexually assaulting you. Apparently, rape and sexual assault is less likely to be perpetrated by strangers as it is to be committed by acquaintances. “You might be simply flirting with a man without any intention of having sex with him. But a man will take your words or memes as a sexual invitation card,” says Munyua.

“Take a lady who entertains outings, hugs, pecks, erotic communication and sexual tags and pet names from a male acquaintance she has no intention of getting sexually intimate with. Chances are high that in one of these outings, he might make an attempt to have sex with her, and once she rejects him, he might resort to sexual violence.” Munyua points out that if you strongly feel that you do not want any advances, you must clearly and loudly tell him to stop.

“Don’t toy with dinner invitations and surprise flowers if you don’t want him. Be clear on where he stands and take the necessary actions to enforce your position,” says Munyua.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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