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Teen’s gang rape galvanizes Kenya

Police did little after girl found in pit latrine

TINGOLO, Kenya — A wave of outrage has swelled in Kenya after reports that a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped and thrown into a pit latrine in this western Kenyan town, with the alleged attackers told to cut grass at a police post as punishment and then let go.

Nearly 1.4 million people have signed an online petition put up by the activist group Avaaz calling for prosecution of the young men and an investigation of the police who freed the suspects.

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Political leaders are also speaking up. Supreme Court Chief Justice Willy Mutunga last weekend said he had forwarded the matter to the National Council for Administration of Justice for ‘‘immediate action.’’ Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that ‘‘as a woman and a mother I am outraged and angered by this inhumane, traumatizing, and inexcusable violation.’’

The teen is currently confined to a wheelchair because of the physical trauma from the attack. She has undergone two surgeries — one for spinal injuries, said Lydia Muthiani, the deputy executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women, which has advocated for the victim.

‘‘She is doing very well. They are hopeful she will walk again,’’ said Muthiani, who noted that the victim is still dealing with the psychological trauma of the rape and from time to time will shut down emotionally.

The attack happened in June but did not get wider attention until Nairobi’s Daily Nation newspaper wrote about it last month.

Her mother spoke through tears at her home in Busia County. She told the Associated Press the police at first said only that her daughter should be taken to a pharmacy and be prescribed pain killers.

Even if her physical and psychological traumas continue to heal, her life will forever be upended. Cultural traditions in this area mandate that a rape victim move to another town where people may not know she has been raped.

Muthiani labeled rape an ‘‘invisible crime’’ in Kenya because it is underreported and rarely acted on judicially.

‘‘We wouldn’t know how big a problem rape is in essence just because we do not have all the numbers of reported cases, but from the number of cases that we do receive, it is a very, very high number,’’ said Muthiani, who said studies have shown that one in six Kenyan women will experience some sort of sexual assault in her lifetime.

Muthiani said that one aid group that studied sexual violence during Kenya’s 2007-08 election violence found that at least 3,000 women were raped. She said there have been only 11 convictions related to those cases.

‘‘When you have a statistic that low, what are you inspiring the public to do? The institutions that are supposed to protect and serve us, for instance police and prosecutors, have to start doing a better job,’’ she said.

Kenya’s inspector general of police, David Kimaiyo, has expressed support for the victim and said the investigation into the attack is complete, with the file forwarded to prosecutors.

The victim’s grandmother said the attackers must be found.

‘‘I want those policemen that released the boys that they had in custody to arrest the parents of the boys who raped my granddaughter so that they can say where the boys are hiding,’’ the grandmother said.

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