Vania's* story easily sends chills down the spine and makes one wonder what kind of person would do such a terrible thing to an innocent child.
On a chilly July evening Vania, then 7, was walking back home from school when she met a man her family knew. The man asked her an uncomfortable question - about her body - which she innocently struggled to answer.
The man forcefully grabbed Vania and dragged her to a nearby bush.
Shocked and confused, Vania tried to get her way out of his grip, but the attacker told her, "If you scream, I will kill you."
After sexually assaulting her, he left Vania on the ground, but not before he warned the frightened girl that if she dared to talk about it to anyone, he would kill her.
Shocked, bleeding and in pain, Vania managed to pull herself to the road an hour later. She ran home and told her mother what had happened.
That was in June 2016. More than six years later, thanks to intervention by International Justice Mission, the man who abused Vania will now serve 50 years in prison for what he did.
The case came to a close in August 2022 after six years of a protracted court battle.
The magistrate who heard Vania's case said, "all the ingredients of [sexual assault] had been sufficiently proved and the accused is hereby convicted accordingly."
The magistrate said though Vania initially had difficulties in testifying, she did finally tell the court “a truthful account of what happened."
After the Attack
On the day of the attack, Vania had tearfully run home - her school uniform soiled and with blood stains. When her mother learned of what had happened, she and Vania's brother went looking for the perpetrator.
On their way, they met a mob beating a group of five young men for allegedly attempting to sexually abuse three other children. Vania identified one of them as her attacker, resulting in an arrest.
IJM staff learned of the case in September 2017 during a legal clinic at the hospital where Vania was taken for treatment. Vania's mother was one of the people who had attended the clinic and she shared her daughter's story with IJM.
At that time, Vania was being taken care of by a good samaritan who ran a shelter that cares for children in danger of violence.
Life for Vania was even more strained due to the amount of trauma she had gone through.
"When we first met Vania, she was emotionally withdrawn. She could psychologically filter and block information. She did not speak for almost one year after the abuse," said an IJM counselling psychologist. The IJM Kenya aftercare team employed child-friendly techniques as they supported her healing and restoration.
The Court Case
Before IJM began working on the case, Vania had difficulties testifying in court. Vania and her mother also were struggling with Vania's father who wanted to be paid off Sh 400,000 by the attacker's family to settle the abuse out of court. The trial had also been postponed on several occasions because of the prosecution's failure to bring other witnesses.
Vania had become scared of men. She was afraid that they would hurt her. She did not feel like she could trust any man. In court, she would stand at the dock and upon seeing the attacker "freeze and shut down."
For Vania to get justice, IJM counsellors and lawyers knew they had to come up with a solution.
For starters, they proposed to the court to transfer the matter before a female Magistrate and change the court setting.
"It was uncomfortable for her to narrate the ordeal she had gone through to a male magistrate while facing the male perpetrator. She felt intimidated. We requested the matter to be heard by a female magistrate," says IJM counselling psychologist Wilfred Mesocho.
The female magistrate, who was very passionate about children’s matters, asked and allowed IJM staff to render their technical expertise.
The courtroom was set up in a conducive environment for little Vania to feel physically and psychologically safe to testify without any fear. She remembered and narrated everything to the court.
The trial proceeded but slowed down again in 2020 due to COVID-19.
In 2021, the suspect jumped bail; however, IJM's dedicated team of fact-finders working closely with the police and Vania's mother, took the officers to the perpetrator's home at night and he was arrested. Vania’s mother was determined that her daughter would get justice.
During sentencing, IJM lawyer, Julius Nyagah was able to articulate how the abuse had affected Vania and her mother and the same was considered in sentencing.
"To be abused, hospitalized for weeks and to testify before an abuser at such a tender age is something no child should be subjected to," said IJM counselling psychologist, Wilfred.
Wilfred, who continues to work with Vania in her journey of recovery, explained that when children go through abuse, re-living those traumatic experiences is their worst nightmare.
“Their mental abuse is much more than the physical abuse because they are consumed by their own feelings, thoughts, and emotions,” he says.
However, he says “through therapy, the right social support mechanisms and a child-friendly environment, the children become resilient and restored to their original self. And so is Vania.”
Today, Vania is 13 years old and in grade 6; bubbly, smiley and resilient after going through trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy, an evidence-based psychotherapy that aims at healing and addressing the needs of children with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other difficulties related to traumatic life events.
When she heard the news of the conviction of her abuser, Vania said she was happy that he is now behind bars and that other children will be safe.
Vania is currently staying at a shelter as she continues with her primary education. Before, she wanted to become a policewoman to punish child abusers, but, she now has new dreams; she wants to be a journalist so that she can tell stories of hope, just like hers.