Boys living on the streets of one Kenyan town say former charity director Simon Harris sexually assaulted them and threatened them with violence when he was living there from 1996 to 2013.
Their testimonies appeared in a British courtroom via live-streaming video from more than 6,500 miles away, in a case made possible by British and Kenyan police working alongside human rights organizations including International Justice Mission.
Today, Harris was found guilty on eight charges of assaulting children and four counts of possessing indecent images. He will be sentenced on January 30, 2015.
Witnesses testifying from Kenya described how Harris would invite vulnerable boys to his home using gifts of money or food, and then give them odd jobs or a place to stay to gain their trust. Harris then sexually abused them in his bed, and many victims say he threatened to hurt them if they told anyone. This abuse went on for years.
“Harris is among the most prolific child sex offenders I have ever come across,” says Kelvin Lay, senior investigation officer from Britain’s Child Online Exploitation and Online Protection unit (CEOP). “The precise number of his victims may never be known.”
“His actions were extremely calculated,” Lay adds. “He hoped that by targeting the most vulnerable children in a rural location in Africa he would get away with it. His mistake was to underestimate our determination to track down and bring to account UK nationals who commit abuse, be that in the UK or abroad.”
International investigation and technology make justice possible
Allegations of Harris’ abuse were brought to light in early 2013 by a British documentary crew profiling these street children. They reported the case to British police, who traveled to Kenya and invited help from Kenyan police and IJM staff in gathering evidence and interviewing potential victims.
IJM social workers facilitated key psychosocial support as each victim came forward. They also prepared Victim Impact Statements to illustrate to the court the physical and psychological impact the abuse had on each child.
Harris was charged under the UK’s Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which allows British nationals to be held accountable for abuse committed abroad—the first time this law has been used for offences in Africa. Harris denied all of the charges from Kenya.
When the trial began in the UK in October 2014, IJM Social Worker Esther Njuguna acted as lead translator and aftercare support for witnesses testifying on live video from Kenya. This real-time innovation made it possible for each victim’s story to be heard in a comfortable environment, allowing the truth to come to light without interference.
“I have nothing but praise for their bravery in giving evidence,” says Detective Chief Inspector Damian Barratt from the UK police. “It took real courage to do so, and I hope the outcome of the court case will bring some kind of closure to enable them to move on.”
Shawn Kohl, IJM’s field office director in Kenya, adds, “This case has set a world class model for harnessing technology and governmental and civil society cooperation to demonstrate that accountability for predators of children will not be stopped by any border or technology.”
Ongoing support for the road to recovery
With the eight-week trial completed, IJM Kenya staff and local aftercare partners are continuing to support the survivors as they move forward.
These boys come from extremely difficult backgrounds. Most are orphans, and all of them spent time living in poverty on the streets. Many of the survivors who participated in the trial have still not disclosed the abuse to their families or community for fear of additional stigma and shame.
“[Many of the boys] report that the community is hostile, because they have no status in the community as a bunch of street boys,” Esther describes. “This type of abuse also stigmatizes them further due to cultural beliefs [about sexual violence against men].”
Esther adds, “IJM will ensure that the boys lives are improved. There is intense work ahead due to lack of support systems for the boys, but we will work with local partners to provide counseling, economic empowerment and vocational training."
Today, Harris' victims can be confident that he will not hurt other children again. With his conviction, dozens of children will be protected from future abuse.