NAIROBI, KENYA – In July 2016, Vania* was walking back home from school when her life was forever changed.
On her walk home, she met a man that her family knew. The man asked her an uncomfortable question, which Vania struggled to answer. The man then forcibly grabbed Vania and dragged her to a bush. Vania relentlessly struggled to get out of his grip. After sexually assaulting Vania, he left her on the ground, bleeding and in pain, and threatened to kill her if she dared to talk to anyone.
Vania bravely told her mum what had happened. After hearing this, Vania’s mother and brother went looking for the perpetrator. They found him amongst a group of five other men attempting to sexually abuse three other children. Vania identified the perpetrator and he was soon arrested.
IJM staff learned of the case in September 2017 when they spoke to Vania’s mother. IJM staff observed that when they first met Vania:
“She was emotionally withdrawn. She could psychologically filter and block information. She did not speak for almost one year after the abuse”
The IJM Kenya team employed child-friendly techniques and worked closely with Vania and her family to help support her healing and restoration.
Before IJM began working on the case, Vania had difficulties testifying in court. Vania and her mother were also struggling with Vania’s father who wanted to be paid off Sh 400,000 ($5,250 AUD) by the perpetrators family to settle the abuse out of court. However, Vania and her mother were unswerving in their quest for justice.
Between this time and the first court hearing, Vania had become scared of men. She was afraid that they would hurt her. Because of this, she would “freeze and shut down” in court, unable to testify upon seeing her perpetrator.
IJM lawyers and counsellors came up with an innovative solution to help Vania get justice. They proposed to transfer the matter to a female magistrate, and set up the court room in a manner that would allow Vania to feel physically and psychologically safe to testify. With IJM’s help, Vania was able testify bravely to the court.
Unfortunately, this was not the end in their long road to justice. In 2021, the suspect jumped bail. IJM’s team worked closely with the police and Vania’s mother to arrest the perpetrator from his home, at night. In the sentencing, the man was given a conviction of 50 years in prison for the sexual assault he committed.
IJM lawyer, Julius Nyagah skilfully articulated the impact of the sexual assault on Vania and her mother. Additionally, IJM Counselling Psychologist, Wilfred said:
“To be abused, hospitalised for weeks and to testify before an abuser at such a tender age is something no child should be subjected to… their mental abuse is much more than the physical abuse because they are consumed by their own feelings, thoughts, and emotions”
Wilfred is hopeful that through the right social support mechanisms and a child-friendly environment, Vania will become resilient and restore to her original self.
Today, Vania is 13 years old and in grade 6 at school. She is bubbly, smiley and resilient. Vania has received Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy from the IJM team, which is aimed at healing and addressing the needs of children with post-traumatic stress disorder and other difficulties related to traumatic life events.
When she heard the news of her abuser’s conviction, Vania said she was happy that he is now behind bars and other children will be safe.
Vania is currently staying at a shelter as she continues with her primary education. Previously, she wanted to become a policewoman – to punish child abusers. Today, she has new dreams. She wants to be a journalist so that she can tell stories of hope, just like hers.
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