|Many victims choose to keep quiet because of culture, stigma and even fear of reprisals|
The thin line between professionalism in city hospitals and medical care is fast eroding as psychos with stethoscopes prowl on patients on sick beds.
A few months ago, a woman was allegedly raped at her hospital bed sparking shock and fury.
The woman, Phylis Nyaguthi, had been admitted at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), where the dastardly act allegedly happened.
Nyaguthi later died and was buried at her home in Murang’a leaving angry relatives calling for justice over what befell their loved one.
The alleged rape incident caused uproar among city residents and even Nairobi women’s representative Rachael Shebesh stormed KNH to protest against Nyaguthi’s death under unclear circumstances.
The Nairobian has established Nyaguthi’s case is one among many. Behind the screens, women, and sometimes men, get raped in public and private hospitals in the city.
The KNH case has, however, highlighted the issue and several victims are starting to open up although many others have chosen to keep quiet because of culture, stigma and even fear of reprisals.
The Nairobian investigations on sex attacks in hospitals took a cautious approach especially with the victims who are hurting and have chosen to keep mum although their relatives and friends called for justice for people often attacked.
Our investigations established that sexual abuse in city hospitals is a reality, normally buried within the precincts of many health facilities in which victims rarely report even after being treated or discharged.
Many times victims choose to suffer in silence rather than risk attracting public ridicule when the truth is disclosed.
According to the Federation of Women Lawyers – Kenya (Fida), the organisation frequently receives complaints from clients seeking assistance after either being raped or sexually harassed by some of medical practitioners.
When Nyaguthi died in August, some women talking to a local radio call-in show claimed of having been abused.
The callers said male doctors and nurses had engaged them in sex without their consent. One of the women narrated how an elderly gynecologist in Hurlingham made sexual advances at her.
The caller said she had all along respected the doctor having been introduced to him by a close friend. But in a twist of events, the gynecologist attempted to pull down her innerwear after requesting the client to have bed rest before undergoing medical tests.
Yet another caller regretted the day she walked into a clinic in Kitui only to be raped. “I have kept this secret for a very long time, I have only opened up because I heard other people discussing it on this channel. Even after getting married I have never told my husband. Whenever I remember what happened, I get traumatized. Shame on that doctor who did it to me,” she said before hanging up the phone.
The main reason why victims suffer in silence is the fear of becoming victims of a second bad situation, according to Kenyatta University sociology lecturer Dr Francis Kerre who said it is not strange for patients to be turned into sex pests.
Culture, poverty and lack of mechanisms to take disciplinary action against offending practitioners has also influenced how victims treat the matter. In most cases, those abused hardly made the next step of reporting to either those close to them, friends or authorities.
“This is a social issue among many communities who are sensitive on sexual matters. Many men will believe that the woman (victim) provoked the situation. Therefore you become a victim of another situation to an extent of being ostracized. That is why women shy away from reporting,” Kerre said.
It was claimed Nyaguthi was raped by a nurse who had been close to her as the patient nursed burn wounds. She opened up four days after the ordeal when crucial evidence had already been erased. The suspected nurse was later fired.
But Kenya National Union of Nurses want the man reinstated, claiming there was no evidence to link him to the sexual allegations.
The union’s secretary general, Seth Panyako, while absolving their colleague from gross misconduct, claimed the nurse had been ‘set up’ by some senior individuals within the largest referral hospital.
“It was an isolated case. We might not be aware if such things happen in other health facilities. But in that case there was no substantive evidence warranting the action the hospital took. We believe the guy was framed by some forces within the hospital. In fact, we have written to the AG demanding an explanation because there is fresh evidence,” Panyako said.
Nairobi deputy police commander Moses Ombati admitted they have occasionally received complaints of sexual abuse.
“Yes they are there (cases). Since I was posted here I have heard about two from Kenyatta National Hospital, but I may not know the course of subsequent investigations. I need maybe to refresh my mind before tracing some of cases,” said the police boss.
KNH spokesman Simon Ithai declined to be drawn into the matter. But a source at the hospital told The Nairobian that there were loose ends surrounding the alleged rape against Nyaguthi as he insisted that as long as he can remember, they had never investigated a case involving sex at the facility.
Jane Njeri, a communication officer at Fida said sexual violence existed in hospitals promising to give more information to back the matter, which is sometimes treated as an assumption by the public court.
“Apart from the Phylis Nyaguthi incident at Kenyatta National Hospital, we recently saw a similar case at the Bungoma District Hospital. As an organization, we picked up the matter, but unfortunately the victim withdrew after reconciling with the offender. These cases are several, my boss will give you more information,” she said.
When contacted for her views and whether she had met clients seeking help after being mistreated in the hands of doctors and nurses, lawyer Judy Thongori said: “Sorry, I can’t be of help here.”
Kerre said culture did not allow discussion of such matters. She said in maternity hospitals, expectant mothers allow themselves to be mistreated and abused because they fear the nurses might not attend to them if they do not cooperate.
“The fear of victimization and lack of alternative avenues of redress make people to fear reporting. Another issue is that of evidence, which is normally hard to prove on the part of the victim. It does not end in hospitals, alone but offices where ladies are raped, but to whom do you report?” posed the lecturer.