In a landmark victory, the High Court in Meru, Kenya ruled Monday that local police had failed to properly investigate hundreds of rape cases over the past several years. In his ruling, Justice Makau ordered the Inspector General of Police, as well as their agents, delegates, and subordinates, to re-investigate multiple rape cases as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of over 264 girls between 3 and 18 years of age who were raped and received no assistance from police at the time of reporting.
Mercy Chidi, an activist who runs the Meru-based shelter Ripples International, often works with girls who need shelter and assistance following rape. She filed the suit with a representative group of 11 girls, all of whom will now receive proper investigation into their rapes. Legal resources for Chidi and the girls were provided by Canadian non-profit The Equality Effect.
One in five women and girls in Kenya are victims of sexual violence, and rape is rarely reported despite strong laws against sexual crimes. When cases are reported, police officers sometimes fail to investigate the crime at all and harass victims. In the cases brought forward to the High Court, police locked girls in cells, demanded bribes for investigations, and even told victims they had consented to intercourse. By failing to act, Makau ruled that officers had created “a climate of impunity” where perpetrators no longer feared repercussions for sexually violent crimes; this climate, he said, made police “directly responsible” for the damage suffered by rape victims in the case. Officers who engaged in that behavior are now liable for arrests, fines, and imprisonment themselves.
Chidi described the ruling as a “glorious victory” to the Daily Nation. “I want defilement of girls to stop,” she continued, “and now [police] must hold perpetrators of horrific crime accountable.” The Equality Effect intends to pursue suits like these across Africa to achieve broader change in the region.