NAIROBI – Several hundred Kenyan protestors marched on police headquarters Thursday to deliver a petition of over a million names demanding justice after men accused of brutally gang raping a schoolgirl cut grass as punishment.
The ferocious attack on the teenage girl and lack of action against those who carried it out has sparked outrage in the country.
The 16-year-old, known by the pseudonym Liz, was reportedly attacked, beaten and then raped by six men as she returned from her grandfather’s funeral in western Kenya in June, before the gang dumped her, bleeding and unconscious, in a deep sewage ditch.
Protestors marched through the streets of the Kenyan capital wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Justice for Liz,” with activists draping dozens of women’s knickers along the fence of the police station.
“What do we want? Respect, respect, respect, dignity!,” the protestors shouted.
“Slashing grass is not punishment for rape,” a sign carried by a protestor read.
Nebila Abdulmelik, of the women’s rights campaign group Femnet, launched the petition on Monday.
“Our immediate task is for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators, and then disciplinary action at the police who failed to take action, because we feel that they embolden others to rape,” Abdulmelik said.
“We are using Liz’s story to bring to light all the other cases of violence that are not necessarily reported to the media, to the police.”
Over 1.3 million people worldwide have signed the petition, which has been publicized by the online campaign group Avaaz, and the number continues to climb.
Senior police officer William Thwere, who spoke to the organisers of the march, promised police were “investigating this issue . . . it will be dealt with the seriousness it deserves.”
Liz is now wheelchair-bound with a broken back, caused either by the beating or by being hurled down into the pit, and also suffered serious internal injuries from the rape.
“The three . . . were only ordered to cut grass around the police camp and set free shortly after,” the girl’s mother told the Daily Nation newspaper, which first reported the story and has led a campaign including raising funds to cover medical costs.
“My wish is to see justice done,” Liz also told the newspaper. “I want my attackers arrested and punished.”
Creg Akoto, a young man among the protestors who works for an organization that has set up a telephone hotline for victims of sexual violence, criticized a system he said can favour the attackers.
“These are our sisters, our mothers, our grandparents who are victims of sexual violence,” he said.
Lawmakers have condemned the attack and subsequent police failures, ordering action to be taken.
Rape is a major problem in Kenya, and is often not taken seriously by the police, according to studies.
One government study in 2009 found that as many as a fifth of women and girls were victims of sexual violence, although other later studies have put the rate even higher.
Another U.N.-backed government study in 2010 focusing on children found a third of girls and a fifth of boys had suffered sexual violence.