NAIROBI, Kenya – Jillian* was only 15 years old when a notorious gang member brutally assaulted her. Over the next year, the young girl was plagued by fear. But with the support of her community and IJM Kenya, Jillian courageously spoke the truth about the abuse in court.
Her bravery has paid off. Last month, a Kenyan court convicted the gang member for raping Jillian and sent him to prison for 20 years.
In November 2011, Jillian walked through heavy rains to a local shop in her poor community. Just as she took a shortcut, she ran into members of a powerful local gang—well known for hurting women in her town. They quickly cornered the girl, as one of the men threatened her with a knife if she screamed.
Terrified, Jillian followed the men into a nearby house, where one of them beat her and sexually assaulted her. No one could hear her cries for help through the heavy rains. Jillian says the gang member held her in the house for 12 long days—afraid, hungry and alone.
When the gang heard that Jillian's father was searching frantically for her, they sent her away to avoid being caught. She ran home and told her family everything. When her family tried to confront the young men, they had already escaped. Jillian's family reported the case to local police and took Jillian to a local hospital, where doctors confirmed the awful abuse.
Help Arrives, but Fear Remains
Jillian's family knew that securing justice would be nearly impossible. The well-known gang inflicted terror in the community. Others in their town had failed to find any help after similar abuse.
But a social worker at the hospital—seeing the family's desperation—referred them to IJM Kenya. IJM took on Jillian's case, immediately came alongside her to provide counseling and trauma therapy, and started working with local authorities to track down the men who abused her.
Although she was relieved to be free and at home, Jillian lived in fear while her abusers remained at large. When reports circulated that a local girl had been killed—allegedly by this same gang—Jillian felt terrified for her own safety. IJM quickly helped her relocated to a secure location and enroll in a new school, but the pressure was starting to overwhelm her.
"Before Jillian started counseling, she had no hope," said Rose Muthee, an IJM social worker. "She felt like her life was really done."
Justice for Jillian—and Her Community
A few months later, the gang member who assaulted Jillian was arrested for another crime – and then quickly identified and charged for attacking Jillian. IJM Kenya attorneys worked with state prosecutors to build a solid case.
IJM social workers helped Jillian process what she had endured, and she felt ready to share the truth about what happened to her. Rose says, "When Jillian was giving her testimony in court, she was very brave and more empowered after the counseling. She was more hopeful and more willing to fight on."
On July 12, 2013, the Kenyan judge found the gang member guilty for rape. Thanks to Jillian's brave testimony and other evidence provided by IJM, the man will spend 20 years in prison.
Convicting a member of this powerful gang will reassure Jillian that the abuse she endured was wrong. It also brings some hope to a community that has lived in terror of this gang for years.
"These people have created so much fear in the people in that community," says Rose. "This was an indication that they are not above the law—they can also be prosecuted."
"I think his conviction is the first step in bringing those gang members to account; I'm not aware of any other case of such a nature that has been prosecuted," says Legal Casework Manager James Kironji. "I think this gives hope to the community that something can be done."
Healing for the Road Ahead
IJM social workers have stayed by Jillian's side throughout the emotional legal battle. They worked with her through crisis counseling, and later helped her begin IJM's comprehensive trauma-focused therapy program. Today, Jillian is doing well in school and is beginning to overcome the fear that was crippling her. She hopes to become a children's rights attorney when she completes school.
"She reached a point where she started seeing the changes," said Rose. "This has not put her down—she still has hope."