Monday December 4 2017

Why GBV prosecution remains a challenge

Light moment. Some of the victims of gender

Light moment. Some of the victims of gender based violence pose for a photo with police officers and members of civil society organisations after a meeting recently. File photo 

By JOSEPH KATO

Aggrey Matsiko opened an assault case at Kisugu Police Station after he had been battered by his female neighbour over a misunderstanding. He however withdrew the case two days later after the neighbours turned him into a laughing stock.
They questioned his strength and status as a man believing that a real man cannot be beaten by a woman. Although Matsiko had wounds and bruises on his body, the locals concentrated on the fact that he had been beaten by a woman something they perceived as strange.

Matsiko is one of the many men and women who have died silently after being subjected to gender based violence (GBV) because they were being judged, stigmatised or discriminated by society.
Maureen Atuhaire, acting Commissioner Child and Family Planning Unit (CFPU) in the Uganda police force (UPF), says more than 50 per cent of GBV cases are never investigated or heard to conclusion after the complainants withdraw, disappear or become non-cooperative during investigations or trial process.

Police statistics of 2016 show every six hours a woman or girl is raped. The same figures show a domestic violence case is reported every 48 minutes. Surprisingly, only a half of 10,907 domestic cases reported in 2016 reached the office of Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP). Data from DPP show over 25 per cent of rape and defilement cases are usually dropped due to lack of evidence.

Settling vs prosecution
Atuhaire explains that the failure in investigations and prosecution results from connivance between local council leaders, relatives of victims or victims themselves. She says local leaders and relatives are always fast at settling matters at household level.
“A person comes to the police station and opens a GBV case and she disappears forever. You try to follow up the case until you get frustrated. Sometimes the victim tells you she is no longer interested,” Atuhaire says.

Because of the ongoing prosecutors’ industrial action, Daily Monitor could not get the latest figures on pending or exhausted GBV cases in the recent past.
However, the 2013 data from DPP shows that out of 804 and 8469 rape and defilement cases reported that year, only 51 per cent were sanctioned.
Harriet Robinah Gimbo, Actionaid’s director of programs, says they received at least 10 GBV cases involving women and girls at their care centre in Bwaise, Kawempe Division, in Kampala. Outside Kampala, she says Mubende tops the list of districts with the highest number of GBV complaints as they receive 10-13 daily.

“GBV is on rise across the country. Many cases are not reported. Girls are being raped and defiled by relatives but they cannot report. They have been threatened or compensated with peanuts,” she said.
Ms Gimbo says many girls at their 10 care centres countrywide are victims of incest whereas others have been sexually assaulted by people they perceive as responsible like teachers, community leaders and law enforcers.

Alarming statistics
The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey indicate that one in five women experience sexual violence everyday. The same survey conducted in 2011 revealed that 56 per cent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have ever experienced violence at least once.
“If all GBV cases could come to light, I am sure the numbers would be doubling those already known. But the victims are scared to report because of the status they own in society, some are frustrated by authorities like police while others fear to be judged and segregated,” she adds.

Ms Gimbo stresses that many women are sexually harassed at workplaces but they fear to report since they lose the respect they own among their relatives, friends and workmates.
She says many women and men have confessed that they would rather die silent than losing their respect in society.

When this newspaper sounded out some women on whether they would report in case they were sexually assaulted, majority said they would just let it go. For instance, Ms Immaculate Natukunda, a mobile money operator on Namuwongo Road, says she would look stupid when she reports that she has been raped.
“I am 21 years old and I am mature enough to defend myself. There is no way I can tell people that I have been raped. No one would believe me. They would think I accepted. Even my friends would shun me,” Ms Natukunda says.

Battling stigma
Similarly, Ms Diana Kanyana, a university student, says a woman loses respect and becomes a disgrace once she reports that she has been raped.
“I can report if I have been beaten but I can’t report that I have been raped. Which man would accept to marry you when he knows you were once raped? That would be your lifetime abuse,” She notes.
Atuhaire and Gimbo highlight GBV effects among others loss of productivity, stigmatisation, self-exclusion, anger, stress, unintended pregnancies, temporary and permanent physical and psychological damages, and distress.

“My advice to GBV victims is that they should report to relevant authorities so that the culprits can be apprehended. Dying silently exposes you to everlasting damages like STIs or permanent physical damages,” Ms Atuhaire cautions.
She adds that her office receives GBV victims and hands them over to the directorate of criminal investigations (CID) that searches and prosecutes offenders. The cases she often refers to CID include rape, defilement and aggravated assault.

Gimbo and Atuhaire guide GBV victims to rush to nearby medical centres to secure medical examination and treatment that would prevent further damages but also the medical documents would be used during prosecution process.
“If you have been raped or defiled, please rush to a medical facility and get post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) so that you prevent yourself from STIs like AIDS,” Ms Atuhaire advises.

Police action
Mr Asan Kasingye, chief political commissar, cautions violence victims against being deceived or persuaded to settle matters outside authority warning that such behaviours promote the vice.
“When you accept rewards of an offender outside authority you know that person would never respect you anymore. You become his subject,” Mr Kasingye cautions.

He emphasises on reporting the cases so that the apprehended culprits can serve as an example to other likely offenders. Mr Kasingye also warns police officers against mishandling GBV files threatening to deal with whoever will be accused of mishandling a case file with severity.

This, he bases on the fact that Juliet Kyandari was killed in Nansana a week after she had reported to the police about her violent husband. Mr Kasingye believes Kyandari’s life could have been saved had police officers taken stringent action against her husband.
Ms Atuhaire adds that the public should not sit on GBV cases because reporting a case does not require any amount of money. She also calls upon the public to always report police officers who ask them money in order register their complaints.

Police force, according to Mr Kasingye, has resolved to create a fully-fledged directorate to deal with GBV matters. The directorate will be headed by a senior female officer at the highest rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) starting next year.
jkato@ug.nationmedia.com

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