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Recovery Centre Brings Hope to GBV Victims in Homa Bay

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Tuesday, December 7th, 2021
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Before December 2020, victims of gender-based violence (GBV) in Homa Bay County who sought medical assistance from public hospitals would go back home after being attended to by medics without any other form of assistance. No one from the hospitals seemed to care enough to find out what had happened to them.

At the outpatient department, women or men battered by their spouses would walk in with bleeding faces and broken limbs. Clinical offices would offer them first aid by dressing their wounds and attending to any other physical injuries.

After the medical care, their only option was to go back to the same place they got the injuries; home.

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the victims visited health centres on multiple occasions.

But this, apparently, did not ring a bell in the minds of some of the health workers attending to them.

The same applied to sexual assault victims. The cases escalated to an alarming rate when schools were closed as sex pests found easy prey in students at home.

According to the Ministry of Interior, up to 7,000 cases of defilement were reported between March 2020 and October 2020.

Many women, too, had their sexual rights abused and all the victims were attended to by medics at the hospitals in the county.

Victims who were concerned about their well-being would later seek help from police on their own, with the hospitals only getting involved if security officers asked for proof of sexual abuse for use in court.

Failure by medics to seek answers on the suffering that women and girls went through meant that GBV cases were not being addressed effectively.

The trend has, however, changed after a GBV recovery centre was established within the county teaching and referral hospital to specifically help abused women, men and children.

The centre also serves as a mental health recovery unit.

Since it opened its doors in December last year, a lot of people have found hope there as residents who found it difficult to continue living with their abusers are enlightened on how to deal with their cases.

A number of women have since opened up and have shared their experiences of being assaulted and their efforts to overcome the challenges.

It has also helped teenage girls who fall victims to sex pests by pushing for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.

Every GBV victim who seeks treatment at a public health facility must be referred to the centre for help.

The centre was established by the county government of Homa Bay in collaboration with Nairobi Women’s Hospital and the Danish Family Planning Association.

According to Georgina Otieno, a psychiatric nurse at the centre, the facility was set up after a few concerned medics noticed a rise in GBV cases, especially during the pandemic.

The building is located away from the eyes of the general public in a bid to encourage more people to visit without fear of being identified and losing one’s privacy.

“Since opening, we have been getting women telling us what they go through. Some are attacked by their husbands who accuse them of being involved in a love triangle,” Ms Otieno said.

She added that the victims are usually advised on the best options, mostly legal action against suspects, to deal with the problem.

Up to 15 GBV cases are being handled at the centre every month, with experts saying there are more cases in the community that are going unreported.

Most clients, she revealed, are those who go to the hospital for medal attention after being harmed physically. Others are referred from police stations after making reports.

“It is unfortunate that men do not visit the centre as compared to women. It is because of the stigma and traditional belief that men beaten by their wives are inferior,” she said.

When a GBV case is reported, the staff at the centre, including a physician, physiologists and a general clinician first ascertain how the incident happened. The victim is then examined to identify any physical injuries and to deal with any other threats to the victim’s well-being.

Victims who cannot go back home are usually taken to safe spaces as their cases are being handled.

“Cases involving children are reported to the police and children services department for legal action. Adults are also advised to seek legal action. However, most adult victims fail to do as we advise them,” Ms Otieno said.

A number of humanitarian organisations offer legal help to GBV victims in the county. From the recovery centre, women attacked at home have been referred to organisations such as the Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network (KELIN) for legal assistance.

Ms Priscila Ruto, a clinical physiologist at the recovery centre, however, said some women prefer settling their cases through kangaroo courts, which becomes a challenge when following up on reported cases.

In an out of court settlement, families sit and agree on how to resolve their disputes without involving the government.

“We usually advise victims to come with their spouses who are suspects in GBV cases in a bid to solve some cases amicably. Most victims, however, come to the centre alone. We are always ready to examine victims and help them fill in P3 forms to assist police in investigations,” she said.

Ms Ruto added that some cases become complicated when victims pursue justice but lack witnesses.

In a recent case, an expectant woman walked to the centre after allegedly being attacked by her landlord. When the woman asked police to initiate legal action against the landlord, she was told the case cannot proceed because witnesses were not ready to testify.

“It turned out that the landlord threatened all his tenants and nobody was willing to report his deeds,” Ms Ruto explained.

Despite such challenges, there have been a number of cases where the GBV victims have got justice.

Ms Otieno gave the example of a defiler who was recently convicted to 25 years behind bars for sexually abusing a primary school pupil.

“We do follow up on all the cases. We work with social workers and police in doing this. Our mission is to end GBV,” she said.

The centre currently operates during the day from 8 am to 5 pm.

Ms Otieno explained that victims taken to the hospital at night are attended to by trained clinical officers at the outpatient department before the cases are referred to the centre the following day.

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