Joyce was raped, fell pregnant and was forced to marry her rapist, now she’s helping others get justice

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Esther* was just six years old when she was raped on her way home from school.

The attacker lured her in by offering to buy her doughnuts. He managed to cajole her into coming to his house to get some money for the snack, locked the door, gagged her and raped her.

At the time, she says she was completely terrified.

‘I thought he was going to kill me,’ she says.

‘The problem was that he closed the door. If he had not closed the door, then it would have been all right – but he closed the door. And I know that when you want to kill someone, you have to close the door.’

A year on, Esther still thinks about that day.

‘Sometimes when I’m by myself I think about it and it’s terrifying and I get really, really angry and I feel disgusted.I know it happened a while ago, but sometimes when I’m by myself the thoughts come back, and they’re still very terrifying.

Mercifully the man was arrested.

The next step is getting him prosecuted – and Esther’s lucky, because she’s able to navigate Kenya’s legal system with ActionAid-backed local women’s group, the Sauti Women’s Network.

‘They took sides with me,’ Esther explains.

‘They helped me get my right, even in court they were on my side, so it made the court process much easier because they were defending me.’

Her paralegal, Joyce De Macambe, is a rape survivor herself.

Joyce fell pregnant after being raped and because her parents found themselves unable to continue paying her school fees, was forced into marrying her rapist.

‘I felt the need to help other girls – or other women – who went through my struggle,’ she explains.

‘I came back to the community and we formed a group of paralegals. And that’s how we started helping the girls and the other women who went through my experience.

‘After I sit with girls who have been raped, I explain my story to them and through it, they get to be healed.’

Her message to them is that rape isn’t the end of life.

As for Esther, she says that Joyce gave her back the confidence that a seven-year-old should have.

‘She told me: “Don’t worry, the perpetrator will be arrested”.’

Esther wants to encourage other rape survivors to ‘be strong’.

‘I’d tell them to be strong on the premise that the perpetrator will be arrested, and I’ll also advise them they should try very much to continue living as if it never happened in the hope that the perpetrator will be arrested.’

Thanks to the work of Joyce, the Sauti Women’s Network and ActionAid, she’s back at school and enjoying her favourite subject, science.

One day, she hopes to become a doctor.

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