On Saturday, the 14th of March, my friends and I had had a great evening catching up over drinks, after which we decided to check out a 50% off offer on burgers at a local coffee chain. They did not have the buns we wanted, though, so we decided to go home. I decided to take a matatu home. They asked me, “Will you be safe?” and I said “Sure! It’s not even 10 pm yet! It’s still safe!”
I was wrong. I arrived at my bus stop at 9.40 pm. At this time, the matatus that serve my route are no longer at Bus Station, but in front of Argho House, which is all the better as the area is much better lit. They are usually parked bumper to bumper, and one has to walk in between them as one would in a maze to get to the one that’s boarding. It was a routine I was used to. Only that this time, a makanga decided to stand in my way and block me from getting to my vehicle.
“Madam, si ukuje twende?” he said while hovering in my personal space. “Mimi siendi South C,” I replied. Normally, this is where other makangas would move out of my way and let me pass. This turned out not to be a normal day. The man did not move. Instead he grabbed my arm, and continued to harass me.
“Ai madam, kuja tu twende!” he said while trying to push me in the direction of his matatu. “Niachilie!” I said. I tried freeing myself of his grip, but his hand fit firmly around my arm, and I was unable to. I repeated myself, and he still would not let me go. “Niachilie ama nitakugonga!” I said, realizing that I would have to resort to violence if he did not let me go. At this point, another makanga, presumably from the same route, came and tried to ask him to let me go. “Manze, achana na huyu dame.”
He still wouldn’t let me go, and kept trying to push/talk me into going with him. So I punched him in the face, hard. The look on his face was one of horror and disbelief, as if he did not expect that I actually could, or would, hit him. I ran through the maze and emerged near my route’s matatus. The two makangas ran after me.
“Shonde wewe! Wewe ni shoga! Fala! Unajua tunaweza kufanyia nini wewe? Tunaweza kukuvua nguo, hata suruali! Malaya wewe! Tutakustrip! Tutakupiga wewe!” They were right there in my face, and people watched as they threatened me, and they did nothing. The makanga who had started all of this came and hit my right breast. All this was happening so fast, but somehow, I managed to rein in my anxiety and stand up to them.
“Ati mtanipiga? Mtanivua nguo? Kujeni basi!” I gestured to them to come nearer and attempt. They came nearer, but did none of what they were threatening. Instead, they kept screaming in my face, and I kept daring them to try. It was as if my apparent lack of fear is what stopped them from physically attacking me.
I could not continue for much longer, so I walked to the South B matatu that was boarding and told them that if they didn’t call their Sacco officials immediately to handle the issue, I would not rest until I shut their Sacco down. They quickly offered that the guys harassing me were actually South C makangas, under 12 C Matatu Sacco, and called two of their officials. The officials came, and asked me to tell them what was wrong. It was here that I learned through experience the violence we subject people to whenever we ask them to recount acts of violence committed against them. I recounted what had happened to the Sacco officials, and they tried to get the two makangas to apologize to me.
Instead, they moved closer and continued insulting me, threatening to beat me up and strip me. The original aggressor came too close for my comfort, and just before he could touch me or harm me in any way, I slapped him and threw him on the ground. When the Sacco officials asked the makangas to state their case, they lied that I had found them standing there and hit the first makanga when he asked me if I wanted to board their matatu. I actually laughed at how much the story of what actually happened had been changed.
By this time, the Sacco chairperson had been called, and he came and made me recount my story yet again. Only that unlike the two officials that came before him, he seemed to firmly be on the side of the makangas. “Madam, in situations like these unafaa kunyamaza na kunyenyekea na uache wanaume wa-sort it out.” He had a problem with how assertive I had been, and I could tell from the look of scorn on his face that he only planned on making the situation worse. When I asked him to handle the situation with the members of his Sacco, he looked at me with a smug look and said “Hizi ni vitu tuta-handle wenyewe kwa wenyewe, sio hapa, na sio saa hii.” He completely refused to accept that his staff were on the wrong, and he made the situation worse.
I stepped aside and called my mother to ask her for the phone number of any senior policeman she knew. She struggled to hear me over the noise, but later on she sent me an OCS’s number. I called the OCS just to let him know where I was and what was happening, in case I ended up injured, raped, or dead. The matatu people overheard me, and when I got off the phone, they started taunting me. “Unadhania ni wewe tu unajua polisi? Sisi tunawajua wote. Hata ukiwapigia, sisi pia tutapigia polisi wetu, na hutasaidika. Hii kitu tuta-sort wenyewe, hakuna polisi atakusaidia.”
This was when I lost it, and started yelling at the crowd of men that had gathered around me to spectate but offer no help, wondering what the point of having all those witnesses present but being unable to obtain some form of justice was. My attackers continued to verbally attack me. The Sacco chairman continued to stand by, looking smug. The two other officials stood by, doing nothing. Then, a huge man started approaching us, and my attackers ran off suddenly, while the matatu they were filling up sped off.
The man demanded to know what was going on. “As who?” I asked. He was a policeman, apparently. Again, I found myself recounting my story, reliving the violence. I expected that he would be of some help, but it seemed that he was in cahoots with the Sacco. “Utafanya hivi. Enda Central Police Station, uandikishe hii kisa, halafu utapewa OB number. Ukishapewa hio OB number, kaa nayo, halafu kila siku ukuje town, uangalie kama utaona hao makanga. Ukiwaona, just stop the nearest policeman na umuulize awashike. That is what you can do.”
It was now 10.10 pm. The man wanted me to go to the police station at that hour, never mind how dangerous that may have been. What was even worse was his ridiculous suggestion, that I should spend my days in town seeking my attackers, and upon seeing them, I should run to the nearest police officer and ask for them to be arrested. All the while this man was talking to me, the Sacco chairman stood by with a smug look on his face. I let them know that that was about the most ridiculous suggestion I had ever received: it was inefficient, time wasting and insulting. He shrugged his shoulders and asked me “Sasa unataka nifanye nini? Hio ndio hali ya vitu madam!” The Sacco chairman repeated the statement, just to infuriate me. “Unaweza kushika hawa watu wa 12 C Sacco wamesimama hapa, they were witnesses to what happened, and they stood by and did nothing,” I said. The policeman insisted that he could not arrest them because he cannot compel them to testify to something they did not participate in. I was stumped. He then started taunting me. “Nionyeshe hao wenye wamekuumiza, nitawashika saa hii!” knowing very well that my attackers ran off as soon as they saw him.
The group of men that had surrounded me then started offering me unsolicited advice. “Madam, unajua utafanya nini…” I was so deflated, I just tuned them out and walked away. I gave up, sat on a flower bed and called my taxi driver to come pick me up. After that, I burst into tears. I had never felt so hopeless.
I got home and had an altercation with my mother, who was insistent that I explain everything to her regardless of the fact that I had no energy to do so. I got into my room and called 999, and was advised to report the case to the nearest police station. The attendant I spoke to was optimistic, because in cases against Saccos, the threat of collective discipline is usually enough to get them to co-operate.
On Wednesday, 18th March, after telling my father what had happened, he accompanied me to Industrial Area Police Station, where I was seen by a female police officer he knows. It was a relief, because she did not engage in blaming me for what happened, and she did not ask me any insensitive questions. The incident was recorded, and I received an OB number and a P3 form (for assault). The policewoman filled her part of the P3 form, and told me to go to a hospital for assessment of my injuries (I did not have any, but when claiming assault, you have to go through this), get a summary report, then take this report to the police doctor, who would fill in his part of the P3 form. Then, I was to bring this form back to the police station, find out the policeman/woman who had been assigned my case, and then record a statement.
I followed her instructions. I went to a private hospital, where I recounted what happened to me and was assessed for injuries. Then, I headed to the police doctor. It struck me as insane, the fact that we only have one police doctor in Nairobi (he sits at Milimani Police Station) and that he does not work in the afternoon. I did not know this beforehand, so I went to the police doctor’s office at 2 pm. I had been warned of a long, winding queue that starts as early as 4 am, so I chose to go there at the time I am least productive. I had been told by my policewoman friend to call her in case he gave me any trouble.
His receptionist was a kind man, interested in helping me. He asked me what had happened, and I recounted yet again what had happened. He was empathetic, then he informed me that because he felt sad on my behalf, he would let me see the doctor; that the doctor’s hours end at lunch time. He wrote that I was a student on my form, to make my visit smoother, and I thanked him and told him that next time, I would come early. “Tunaomba kusiwahi kuwa na next time,” he said.
Upon entering the doctor’s office, he asked me what I was doing there, and I told him I was there to get my P3 form filled. He told me to sit down, and asked me to recount what had happened, so I did, again.
“Sasa mama mkubwa kama wewe, unaweza acha vitu kama hizo zifanyike? Kwa nini?” he asked. I was incredulous. “Ati sasa walikushika? Kitu ndogo kama hio, huwezi achilia? Lazima ufuatilie? Ai!” So I explained that the men actually threatened to physically harm me, to which he laughed. “I will never understand how women are assaulted and raped. Why do you have a mouth?” I thought this was a rhetorical question, so I did not respond. I just wanted him to fill my form so that I could get out of there. “Why do you have a mouth? I am asking you!” So I said “To eat and speak, I guess.” “And when the worst comes to the worst, what do you do with that mouth?” “You bite, I guess,” I said. “Exactly! You bite! So how are women attacked and raped all over and they have mouths!” Then he laughed for what seemed to be an eternity. “In fact, when someone is threatening to rape you or hurt you, you do not resist. You let them think you are actually going to let them do it, and then when they get near, you bite!” He continued to laugh.
“Where do you go to school? What do you study?” I cooked up a story that involved me being in my final year at a private university. “Do you have a job lined up? Have you even ever had an internship?” I continued to cook up my story that involved my being an undecided final year student who did not know what she wanted to do. “And now, this case, you plan on going to court? And pursuing it?” I answered yes. “Just because you were touched and threatened with stripping?” He continued to laugh. I lost my patience, and told him that I did not come to his office for his misguided remarks or unwanted counsel. I just needed him to do his job and fill in the P3 form, which he was yet to do. Instead, he had spent almost fifteen minutes taunting me, and I told him that for a medical professional, he should be deeply ashamed for saying the things he had. I could tell that he was not used to people speaking their minds to him.
He filled in the P3 form, and then asked me for KES 300. I only had KES 1000, but he told me he would give me change, which he did. It was then that I realized why the receptionist had insisted on writing that I was a student: I may have been charged more or never been attended to otherwise. He handed me my P3 form, and I asked him for my receipt. “Ati receipt? For what?” To which I responded “If you are mandated to charge me for this service, you should have a receipt book, therefore, I want my receipt.” He started laughing and said “Kumbe wewe ni mwerevu sio kama wale wengine? Leta hio mia saba.” I handed him the KES 700, and he returned my thousand shilling note. He pulled it out of a huge wad of notes, which I assumed was what he had managed to swindle out of other unfortunate people who had to see him, seeing as there was no other alternative.
I managed to get my P3 form back to the station and record my statement. On my way out, I went to thank the receptionist for helping me, to which he said “Nakuelewa tena sana. Hao watu wa matatu hawana heshima. Inabidi uwaripoti, hio kitu walikufanyia ni mbaya sana, nakutakia kila la heri kwa hio kesi.” I wished he was the doctor instead. The investigation on the case is ongoing, and I have learned a lot of things from this experience.
Every time I have been made to recount my story, it is as if I am reliving the violence. This is why we must be careful whenever we unnecessarily ask victims of sexual violence to tell us what happened. We are forcing them to relive the violence. I always knew that the stripping of women never has anything to do with what a woman is wearing. It is an act committed by men (or women) who wish to disempower a woman when she acts in a manner that is too empowered for their tastes. It is a cowardly act. I have experienced several people asking me “What were you wearing?” as if it matters. I was dressed in my regular uniform, a shirt and pants, and the issue of stripping only came up when I punched the makanga who thought he had a right to my time, space and body. When I showed him he did not, he aimed to humiliate me in the worst way he could imagine.
The fact that I seemed not to care about being beaten and stripped took the joy and satisfaction they would have got from doing it away, which was why they did not do it. The beating and stripping of women is meant to humiliate them and cut them down to size. I also always knew that asking “Did you report it?” is a harmful question, but I have learnt it anew because of what the system puts women who report through. I can only imagine a woman who has been raped or beaten up being forced to go to the police station, answer intrusive/insensitive questions because she did not have the privilege of having a relative with an empathetic police friend, then go to see that police doctor, who does not understand how women get beaten or raped. I can imagine him taunting them, laughing at them, asking them how they could let it happen. I can imagine him asking them why they have mouths, then signing their P3 forms and demanding for money for a job the government already pays him to do.
I have learnt that too many men feel entitled to a woman’s body, such that street harassment is a regular thing, and when you stand up to it, you get threatened with violence, and you get laughed at by insensitive doctors. Women are thought of as a resource that exists to satisfy men’s needs. Which is why a statement like “pesa, pombe, siasa na wanawake” exists. Women are not people, they are playthings for men, and when they prove otherwise, they must be cut down to size.
I have been asked why I am doing this; why I am pursuing justice through our legal system. It is because I want to stand up so that other women may never have to go through what I went through, or worse. So that people can see that even when you do everything right, our system will still let you down, and punish you at every juncture to get you to give up. I am doing this to teach the two makangas a lesson. When I offered them an opportunity to apologize, they did not, instead, they insulted me and threatened to beat/strip me. They thought they could threaten my life? Well, I will shit on theirs.
I am doing this so that whenever a man thinks of harassing or assaulting a woman, he will think twice, because he doesn’t know when he will run into a woman like me who will punch him in the face and get him thrown in jail. I am doing this so that everyone knows that “What were you wearing?” is an irrelevant question.
Most of all, I am doing this because I cannot believe that this is what can happen when a woman simply wants to go home.