Maisha Girls Safe House offers a haven and hope for rape victims

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Playtime activities at Maisha Girls Safe House.PHOTO/Dinah Matengo
Florence Keya with the girls at Maisha Girls Safe House.PHOTO/MAISHA GIRLS SAFE HOUSE WEBSITE

According to statistics compiled by the Kenya Ministry of Labour and Social protection, 1 out of every 6 children has been a victim of sexual abuse. And out of every 100 victims of sexual abuse, only 12 reported the incidents.  Many of the victims are raped or sexually abused by relatives.

The government says those statistics become worse during the pandemic.

Some of the victims end up at the Maisha Girls Safe House in Kenya’s Eastlands region. Florence Keya founded Maisha Girls Safe House in 2014 following an experience with sexual violence.

Keya says at the moment, 37 girls and women stay at the facility.

Playtime activities at Maisha Girls Safe House.PHOTO/Dinah Matengo

“Sarah” (not her real name) is one of those victims. She was raped by her stepfather and became as a result.

“In the morning he left to go to work… then at night, he came back drunk. He had smoked a lot of weed then he came to my room then opened the door while I was deep asleep and covered my mouth with tape so as to prevent me from screaming. My mam upon waking up found stains of blood on my bedsheet.”

According to “Sarah”, the stepfather ran away never to be seen again. She is in the process of trauma therapy at Maisha girl’s safe house she is also preparing for a court hearing against her step-father.

“Violet”, another Maisha Girls resident, arrived at the facility from DR Congo. She says she was raped by her brother-in-law.

She says the rape happened a few months after her sister died while giving birth.

“Her husband said he can’t raise the child when he doesn’t have a wife and that we should leave the baby hospital. I told him I’ll raise the baby with my aunt. When we took the baby he changed his mind and also said that he will raise the baby saying that I should go stay with him and the baby that he will provide. My aunt and I stayed with him. He raped me, I got pregnant and he ran away.”

Keya explains such incidents became common during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Kenya. The ‘stay at home’ directive shut down schools and  left more girls vulnerable to sexual predators

“It became so overwhelming during the early days of COVID-19, especially around May, June, and July. I Would turn back girls since the place was really packed, but at night I wouldn’t sleep well wondering if the girl is safe or not, it wasn’t easy.’’

Maisha Girls Safe House focuses on healing and therapy and Florence doesn’t run it alone.

With the help of six other ladies, she makes sure all documents are in place especially for girls who are not Kenyan. She also has someone who accompanies the girls during court sessions, house cleaners, therapists, and non-governmental organizations that come engage the girls in different activities

Florence has enrolled some of the girls in school.

“Most of these girls have gone to school; high school instead of them staying in the house I go out of my way to find a school that can accommodate them when they are in this process, the court process or any process of psychosocial support,” Keya says.

One of the safe house’s biggest challenges is finding justice for the rape and sexual abuse victims. Keya says most of the policies meant to protect children are not put into practice.

“Recently we had one victory where the perpetrator of rape was found guilty but that was after close to one and half years. Some cases even take 6 months before a girl gets to testify…..In most of these cases, children are used as an exhibit and that’s why the victim is often asked to keep the baby, we can only hope that some of the cases can be fast-tracked because some of these girls want their life to continue.”

Both of the victims we spoke to are quite hopeful that one day their life will go back to normal. “Violet” hopes she can one day become a lawyer and fight for justice, while “Sarah” hopes she can soon be able to resume her studies so she can comfortably sit for her KCPE exams.

Through her well-wishers, Florence Keya is optimistic that one day she will build a safe house that will accommodate more girls who need shelter away from everything, and she calls upon people to be on the lookout at community-level at any strange happenings and always be keen to report any cases of sexual abuse.

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