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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Tell David Sankok rape traps cannot be 'love-nests'

East African Legislative Assembly Member David Sankok earned the nation's criticism this week. Roundly accused of promoting rape culture, the moment sadly reflects how much those elected to serve the public can lose sight of the risk women and girls face.

The regional legislator shared a photo of a tree-hut on his private lodge to advertise a “love-nest” with a removable ladder to prevent women clients from withdrawing their consent to sex. Entering the tree-hut is consent enough, he further argued. Led by Maa women’s association Olamal Loo Ntomonok, Coalition Against Violence, Narok County Assembly Women’s Caucus and the National Gender and Equality Commission, local and national reaction has thankfully been swift.

Coming in the wake of recent horrific testimonies of intimate spousal abuse, Sankok’s comments must disturb us. They include the conviction of Moses Gatama Njoroge for throwing Eunice Wakimbi off a 12-floor building, Naftali Kinuthia’s confession in the vicious murder of Ivy Wangechi and the brutal multiple rape and killing of Velvine Kinyanjui at Sinnott hotel, Kahawa, Nairobi in 2021.

That the comments come from a legislator with a decade of disability and inclusion activism is more worrying. Sankok has been National Council for Persons with Disabilities Chairperson (2014-2017), Jubilee Party disability parliamentary nominee (2017-2022) and is now a first time EALA Member. To add salt to injury, disability rights activists will have also noticed his tree-hut is designed to exclude persons with disabilities from either independently entering or leaving.

Rather than offer a quick apology, announce the permanent closure of the tree-hut and new hotel safety guidelines and measures, Sankok dug himself into a deeper ethical hole by gloating his strategy had worked. The negative publicity has led to advance bookings, he claims. If true, the legislator deployed a tactic, advertisers call shockvertising. Shockvertising deliberately offends its audience by violating social values and norms. It seeks to disturb or generate fear to sell a product or influence behaviour for commercial gain.

The insane idea that men have a right to women’s bodies and their sexuality is not original. It is however, at the core of sexual exploitation and rape culture. It strips both adults and children of the family and national protection they deserve and drives predatory behaviour within our communities.

Non-consensual sex is rape under Articles 27 and 29 of the Constitution and the Sexual Offences Act of Kenya. Despite decades of laws, 40 per cent of Kenyan women experience emotional, physical, and sexual violence. Women with mental and physical disabilities have proportionately higher risks of being violated. In the last year, conflict in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere in the Eastern African region has seen rising levels of sexual violence. Médecins Sans Frontières attended to 674 survivors of sexual violence in eastern DRC last month alone.

It is because of this, that the region adopted the East African Community Gender Policy in 2018 and 2022-2026 Strategic Plan to address “unequal gender power relations” and the normalisation of gender-based violence. Like Kenya, all members of the East African Community have national laws and institutions that prohibit sexual violence. Rwanda sentences convicted rapists to ten years imprisonment and rape within marriage attracts sentences between six months and two years.

Current EALA Women’s Caucus leader Fatuma Ndangiza will be very familiar with sexual violence trauma. As the former Executive Secretary for the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda she would have listened to many of the 500,000 women and children raped, sexually mutilated, and murdered in those first 100 days of the 1994 genocide.

Let us hope that the Kenya Kwanza Alliance and the East African Legislative Assembly have the moral courage to discuss Sankok’s comments before they are petitioned to do so by citizens. Perhaps, East Africans can also issue a travel advisory and stay away until we are publicly assured the entire lodge is not a death trap. Freedom, dignity, and the right to choose what happens to our bodies is either for all or for none.

This opinion was first published in the Saturday Standard on 24 June 2023 #StandardSettingKE


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