Modern enslavement

This is the fourth edition in an ongoing series. Look for the fifth in next Monday’s Daily.

by Kathryn Nelson

As a white Western female living in Kenya, you sometimes feel that you’re immune to the violence that afflicts everyone around you.

But it was only when I was confronted with such violence that I truly became a woman of this country, when a man attempted to sexually assault me inside his Kenyan home.

Grappling with the fact that I was almost raped has been one of my most difficult trials I have ever dealt with.

It was after I sat across from the assaulter at the police station, listening to his testimony of how I had seduced him into the act that I really recognized the depth of what occurred and the profoundness of how women around the world live in sexual slavery.

Peter Serango was the supervisor of disaster relief at Mount Elgon. He studied engineering at a university in Europe and had worked at the Kenyan Red Cross for many years with hundreds of young volunteers.

His appearance reminded me of an old friend of my parents, soothing and genuinely interested in hearing about my life. We spent many afternoons talking in the hot sun about life in the West, what we missed and what we didn’t.

I wasn’t surprised when he offered me a ride into town on his bicycle one afternoon. Peter just needed to drop off his backpack at his home nearby and wanted to show me the new land he had recently purchased.

I wanted to honor our friendship by visiting his home and attempting to understand his life.

I climbed on his old bicycle and rode to his home, but as soon as I walked into his living room, I knew there was something wrong.

The floor was littered with empty containers of glue, broken liquor bottles and a bare, soiled mattress in the corner.

My world slowed to a halt during those first few minutes. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I do know that he grabbed my shoulders and slammed me on the wall.

“I love you Katie,” Peter said. “You need to kiss me.”

My body seized as he came toward my face. Somewhere in my bones and muscles, in the deepest part of my soul, I found the strength to break his hold from my body and run.

I dashed to the nearest road and looked around for help but there was no one there to help me. My only lifeline was my cell phone. I called my mother in Minneapolis and told her, “If I hang up, I’m being attacked. Please stay on the line until I find help.”

There is no 911 emergency center in Kenya, no police to trust or people who know you. I needed to get to my home with my host family as soon as I could, but my feet couldn’t carry me fast enough; I was too slow for Peter.

He began following me on his bicycle trying to apologize for his actions.

“Do not tell anyone, Kathryn! I am very sorry,” he said.

I stayed on the phone until I found a taxi that took me straight home and to the open arms of my host sister, Anne. When I explained what had happened her response was vague.

“What a bad man,” she said.

Callous as her comfort initially was, I soon remembered that Anne had been raped her entire life by her husband. An attempted assault was normal in her existence.

My host father, Pastor Daniel Makecho, took a much firmer stance.

“When people hear of this in America, they will think all Africans are rapists,” Daniel said. “We will make an example of him, send him to jail for the rest of his life.”

It’s long been known that Kenya has one of the most corrupt police forces in the world. I met with women weeks before who had been raped by government security forces in Mount Elgon. In my own selfish, embarrassed mind, I wanted to make this all go away and never speak of it again.

The next morning, Daniel took me to meet with the local police who took my statement. Unlike here in the West, there was no privacy to my pain. Most people at the station wanted to hear what the ‘mzungu’ woman was complaining about.

A warrant for his arrest was assigned immediately.

I felt no remorse when Peter filed into the station, head down and shamed. I initially didn’t intend on pushing full charges for attempted rape; I just wanted to teach him a lesson about boundaries, not ruin his life.

It was also not Peter’s intention to tell the truth about his actions. He lied in my face and told me I wanted to lay with him – that I had pursued everything. He continued to blame me for everything, as if I had the power over his mind.

After an hour, I began hysterically crying and asked to leave the room, but instead he was taken out, behind the station to be spoken with.

When he returned, he was more remorseful. He pleaded guilty to attempted rape and apologized to me. Peter was sent to jail for several days while we drafted the official charges.

The minimum sentence for his charge is 12 years.

But that was before we discovered he had raped a 3 1/2-year-old girl. He had done this before.

Some people say the most painful moments in life are just a lesson or blessing in disguise. I can only hope this is what happened.

I sometimes wonder how many more women had been exploited by him or how many children had their innocence stolen away.

As far as I know, Peter is still in jail and will be for the rest of his life. My father Daniel goes to visit him sometimes and pray for his soul. Peter asks for forgiveness from God and from me.

I try not to think of him anymore, his face, his thoughts. I do sometimes wake up in the night crying because in my dreams I see the face of one of the children he stole from the world.

We are living in a generation of women who are enslaved by the sexual exploits of men.

These acts are no longer simply a continent’s problem – it is our collective crisis that spans all cultures and colors.

We can no longer allow children to be defined by the malicious acts of other people’s selfish exploitations.

This is our cross to bear and to act upon. It is my burden too.

As long we continue to allow these acts to befall the most innocent people on earth, may we never find peace in our lives.

Kathryn Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]

Click here to read previous columns and see Kathryn’s personal photos