Instagram Account “Kenyans Exposed” Taken Down for Taking Down Perpetrators
TW: Sexual Assault, Rape, Sexual Violence against Women
There’s so much I love about Nairobi. I love the smell of the air — unadulterated and imperfect. I love the depth of valleys and peaks of hills decorated with greens, fuchsias, and browns so vibrant they’re almost unfathomable. I love the cacophony of pedestrians chasing after matatus and snickering on sidewalks. I love cruising down Peponi Road, smiling to myself as I remember the many times I took the same route to proms, dates, and after school activities. I love the stillness of Tigoni at midnight — the Nairobi lights sparkling in the blue-black sky.
I love what’s unlocked in me when I’m here. I’m afforded a carefreeness by way of an undeniable and sometimes infuriating call to go with the flow. It’s the status quo. All responsibilities and obligations come with an amount of ease and flexibility. My creativity blossoms when I’m in Nairobi, and I am reminded of part of myself that’s neglected when elsewhere.
While there are so many things I’m freed from while I’m here, there’s one freedom I lose when I’m here. I don’t even know if I would call it freedom. Everywhere I go, I’m aware of the danger that comes with being a woman. I’m constantly conscious of what I’m wearing, who’s around me, and how I would escape the space I’m inhabiting. I envision sexual assault scenarios — how I would be attacked, where my body would be dumped. Like most women I’d argue, I always carry alertness like armor, all while knowing that it probably wouldn’t protect me in a threatening situation.
However, when I’m in Nairobi, I have to carry that armor with added intensity. In Kenya, sexual violence against women is one of the most critical public health and human rights issues in the East African nation today. Violence against women, sexual and otherwise, is a daily reality. One in three women in Kenya have experienced sexual violence, and in July alone, over 5,000 girls were raped. The latter statistic is continuing to grow amid the COVID-19 health pandemic.
Rape and sexual violence against women is a problem in Kenya for the same reason why it’s an issue around the world. The country, like many, still functions within archaic, patriarchal systems that cater to male dominance and women’s inferiority. Traditional Kenyan culture encourages men to establish their dominance through ownership over a woman’s body and her life. What makes the issue particularly immense is women don’t have a platform to talk about their reality, nor is there sufficient governmental support for programs and organizations that aim to remedy the issue and help survivors. In addition, corrupt police are unwilling to report cases of rape or abuse. They’re negligent, don’t believe survivors, and often blame survivors for their assault.
Thankfully, Kenya’s young people are taking a stand. Young Juma* started an Instagram account called “Kenyans Exposed”, which in the short time it was live garnered over 5,000 followers. The account aimed to call perpetrators out, and give women much-needed space to talk about their experiences. “Someone who was very dear to me had a sexual abuse encounter and she opened up to me about it a few months ago,” he explained to me. “She opened up my eyes and made me realize how common this is for young women in Kenya, and how several of these women feel like they can’t talk about these things and share their stories because of the social taboo as well as the certainty of some sort of victim-blaming.”
Juma first considered making an “anonymous page”, but after the recent outcry of young girls on social media about rape, he was inspired to create Kenyans Exposed. The young advocate struggled to verify stories, navigating walking a fine line between being deemed a “rape apologist” or illegitimate. “You can’t really win sometimes, but it’s worth it in the end because we are able to encourage more and more girls to come out with their stories and take legal action against their abusers,” he said.
Kenyans Exposed was quickly circulated and revealed important truths about how Kenyan women are treated and considered. I don’t live in Kenya full time, so my experiences are few but anxiety-inducing. I’ve been grabbed on the street in downtown Nairobi and ogled to the point of discomfort by someone twice my age at a local golf club. Over the years I’ve collected moments in which I’ve felt how unsafe it can be for women here. My experiences, however, pale in comparison to the women who have long dealt with this mistreatment, neglect, and abuse.
“Misogyny in this country exists,” Juma tells me. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is a misogynist. As a man, I’m aware of these issues as there is a big stigma around ‘calling out your boys’. People are usually too scared to do so and this page also gives them an opportunity to accomplish this with anonymity.” Kenyans Exposed paved the way for allies of any gender to meaningfully support survivors and advocate for change. Though Juma worked alone, he had a lot of support. “I was also pleasantly surprised by the immense amount of support from men on Instagram who have passionately advocated against these issues. People were offering all sorts of help which was really something to commend.”
The lack of comprehensive sex education in Kenyan schools also plays a major role in perpetuating rape and sexual violence against women. Most Kenyan schools, public or private, do not have any form of sexual education courses to help students understand their bodies, sexuality, and how to explore both safely. This educational negligence leads children to subscribe to dangerous notions of sex. “I definitely think the topic of sex is seen as taboo from a young age which could be why these men grow up to be the way they are,” Juma shares. “In the western world, things don’t work like this. There are educational systems in place which aim to inform and reform.”
The younger generation has had enough, and they’re using social media to demand change. Earlier this year, Kenyan university students started a #CampusMeToo movement to address the pervasive problem of sexual abuse in higher educations institutions. Students took to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and more to share the abuse they endured by teachers and faculty members. Their outcry inspired change, prompting major institutions like the University of Nairobi to join Action Aid and a group within UN Women to start a campaign aimed at addressing the issue.
“I have to say the younger generation is where a majority of the activism is coming from,” Juma explains. The older generations seem to be clouded by social stigmas of being related to a rape victim and the general mentality of ‘it’s not our problem’. The younger generations are rapidly exterminating these beliefs and are using their social media platforms for awareness and education which is simply amazing to see.”
Unfortunately, Juma’s growing influence was short-lived. Due to a worrisome amount of threatening messages, he was forced to take down his takedown account. “I’ve already received loads of threatening messages from the culprits as well as the DCI,” he tells me bravely. “I just think it’s sad how a country’s legal system would rather focus their resources on taking down a sex offender page rather than the sex offenders themselves. I would love to see less corruption and more justice but that sadly will not happen. The only thing we can do is reform as humans which is why I think schools should teach men from a young age how to respect the opposite gender and how they should behave to create a safe society.”
Juma’s efforts won’t die with Kenyans Exposed. After speaking with this incredibly courageous young man, I knew writing this piece was imperative. Media outlets in Kenya and around the world predominantly recount harrowing and unimaginable stories of sexual violence. While those stories are important to tell, it’s equally important to show Kenyans and the world that activism is happening. Kenya’s young generations are stepping up and starting to push back against societal norms drenched in patriarchy. They refuse to accept this blatant disregard of women’s rights. They demand better of their government and refuse to adopt venomous habits of complacency, neglect, and misogyny. Those in power may try and silence these powerful young voices, but their efforts will not stop change.
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Check out these wonderful organizations advocating for women’s rights in Kenya:
COAW (Coalition of Violence Against Women)- https://covaw.or.ke/
FIDA Kenya- https://www.fidakenya.org/
Center for Reproductive Rights (Kenya)- https://reproductiverights.org/our-regions/kenya
GVRC (Gender Violence Recovery Center) Kenya- http://gvrc.or.ke/