Rebuilding life after sexual violence and torture: the story of Helen from Kenya

She was raped and tortured for 24 hours by armed soldiers at Mt Elgon; but Helen has now rebuilt her life with a new husband and a baby with the help of a rehabilitation centre in Kenya.

Editor’s Note: Rehabilitation works and is a torture survivor’s right: this is the theme of this year’s 26 June campaign for the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. During the next two weeks, we shall be posting testimonies, stories and experiences from torture survivors themselves. Their testimonies explain clearly – rehabilitation works and is a torture survivor’s right.

Mount Elgon District is a small, rural area in western Kenya that has long been in a conflict that escalated in 2005 when the rebel group Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) took up arms in a land dispute. The Kenyan military were dispatched to the area in 2008. Reports quickly emerged that the Kenyan military had followed the tactics of the rebel group: both armed forced were accused of ongoing assaults, kidnapping, torture and murder of Mt. Elgon residents. Mwatikho Torture Survivors Organization (MATESO), a human rights organisation and IRCT member centre in Kenya, has been at the forefront of documenting the cases there and treating the victims of torture. Watch their 30-minute documentary on the Mount Elgon conflict and the human rights violations.

Helen lives in Mt Elgon, an area that has been affected by conflict since 1992 to date. Nearing the election period in 2006, an organised militia sprung up called Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF); they extorted, tortured, raped, abducted and forced disappeared, murdered and evicted people from the mountain.

Helen, a resident of Chemuses, was tortured and sexually abused by the SLDF in 2007. She was still living in the Mt. Elgon region, with her husband and four children, in August of 2008 when a group of five men came into her compound.

At around 5pm, Helen was home when the men came to her compound. They asked for her husband, but he was not at home. They demanded to know how many of the SLDF she knew; since they alleged that she went round talking about them. She declined and that is when they kidnapped her and brought her to an unknown place.

There, they blindfolded her, raped her in turns and even beat her for almost 24 hours. The following day she was unconscious, but they did not let her go. She was told to open her mouth where one of them urinated and yet another forced her to eat human feces.

After all this, they left her, but she was nearly unable to walk home because of the pain she had. She forced herself up because she believed that if she continued to stay there, others might come and continue the torture. She tried, and thankfully, a person helped her home.

When she made it home, her husband took her to hospital where she was treated and tested for HIV/AIDS. Later on that husband rejected her, alleging that she was infected with HIV/AIDS and other venereal diseases. In this domestic dispute, she lost her child as a result of family negligence and the stigmatisation she underwent.

She also lost her first husband but found a new one, with whom she now has one child.

MAHTESO intervened in the case providing Helen with treatment and counseling. They have set routine home-based visits and care. Although she had been treated before, it was not enough as she still complained of chest pain and backache. Helen and her family still have a long way to go – they require counseling sessions about once or twice a month. But with the organisation’s ongoing support, Helen is moving towards an increasingly full and healthy life.

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