NAIROBI, KENYA: The crime was brutal – a group of school friends violently robbed by a gang, two of the young girls raped. IJM Kenya took on the case, working tirelessly to secure justice for Etana* and Mara.* But as the months went by and three of the four men in the gang were acquitted, justice seemed cruelly out of reach.
Four years ago, Etana and Mara had joined schoolmates for an evening hike in the hills around Nairobi. A group of men surprised the students and – armed with crude weapons – robbed them and chased the boys away. Another girl managed to escape, but Etana and Mara were trapped. Alone on the hillside, they were violently raped by four of the attackers.
The other students took the girls to a local hospital, and their parents immediately reported the violent assault to police. The men were found with the stolen items and arrested, and the trials began soon after.
An investigating officer worked hard to build the case, but she met setback after setback. Evidence from the robbery had been poorly recorded, and some of the students refused to testify. The officer asked IJM Kenya for legal assistance.
"By the time we came into the case, the trial had been running for two years with no leads," says IJM social worker Esther Njuguna.
IJM investigators worked quickly to help find key witnesses and prepare a solid case against the alleged attackers. Meanwhile, IJM's aftercare team counseled Etana and Mara, and helped the girls prepare to share their heartbreaking story in court.
Etana and Mara successfully completed IJM’s trauma-focused counseling program, and both have started at university. Now, the girls are moving ahead, and Mara can rest knowing her perseverance had a purpose.
Etana and Mara bravely testified in court about what had happened to them, but they could only positively identify one of the men. It had been dark at the time of the attack, and they had not been able to clearly see the other three men who had violently assaulted them. Few other witnesses came forward to testify, and the lack of evidence hurt the case. The court acquitted the other three men in November 2011.
Refusing to give up, the girls, their families and IJM persevered over the next year, remaining committed to the case against the fourth man – the one who the girls had been able to identify as definitely being one of their attackers. At one point, the man even tried to bribe Mara, but she remained steadfast and pressed on in court.
"The fact that Mara persisted made us persist," says IJM Kenya's Director of Investigations.
After four years of legal battles and dozens of court hearings, Etana and Mara waited one last time on October 19, hoping for justice. At last, the judge gave the girls reason to smile: a powerful conviction and 15-year prison sentence for the fourth attacker. The truth had been heard and justice was done.
Etana and Mara successfully completed IJM's trauma-focused counseling program, and both have started at university. Now, the girls are moving ahead, and Mara can rest knowing her perseverance had a purpose.
Even though three of the accused are free, the court's strong conviction affirms that the abuse Etana and Mara endured is wrong. Says Esther, "The conviction is just vindication for the clients."
*Pseudonyms have been used for the protection of these IJM clients.