June 17, 2012

CHMP Senior Fellow Nancy Cabelus, DNP, MSN, RN, is an international forensic nurse consultant currently working with Physicians for Human Rights on a program addressing sexual violence in conflict zones in central and east Africa.

nancy-cabelusI have been working for the past couple of weeks in Kenya as a forensic consultant for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).  PHR’s program on sexual violence in conflict zones hosted a training workshop in Eldoret, one of the largest towns in Kenya. Participants in the workshop represented a cross section of medical- legal professionals and members of civil society who work with sexual violence.  Survivors of sexual violence face many barriers to justice due to weak infrastructures of medical and legal systems. Barriers to justice identified by the training participants include a lack of training of both medical and legal professionals. More specifically, there is an omission of evidence collection and documentation that could lead to better outcomes in a court of law. Corruption also plays a part. In cases of defilement (sexual assault against a child under 18 years of age) the child victim’s family is offered money by the offender rather than facing a guilty charge and a 40- year prison sentence if convicted by a court of law. Doctors report that there is also tampering of hospital medical records. Next of kin to sexual offenders may be working in local hospitals. These hospital workers will ask the doctor to write a favorable medical evaluation rather than document the true medical findings.  Sometimes, medical records mysteriously disappear. Steps have been taken by government hospital officials to ensure that records are kept locked and only designated persons have keys. False testimony in court creates another barrier to justice and frequently witnesses request to be paid for their testimony.

Sexual violence is a daily occurrence in Kenya. Many do not report the incidents because they do not trust the police or the criminal justice system. As a forensic expert on sexual violence in Kenya, I hear these reports and cringe. Allowing a perpetrator to pay off the victims, victim’s families, or witnesses further damages the criminal justice system and also provides the perpetrator with opportunity to re-offend.