ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Authorities in Kenya today sentenced three men to 15 years in prison for the gang rape of a teenage girl. Initially, local police had ordered the men to cut grass for the crime and that punishment provoked an international outcry. NPR's Gregory Warner looks at the case that shocked the Kenyan government into action.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Liz was walking home from her grandfather's funeral when she was ambushed by the six men, some of whom she knew. Liz, whose last name is withheld to protect her identity, was raped and thrown, unconscious, into a pit latrine. The injuries to her back left her in a wheelchair. The gang rape was so violent that the 16-year-old developed obstetric fistula, an injury to her vaginal wall that left her incontinent. Mary Makokha is a civil rights activist in Busia County in far western Kenya on the border with Uganda. She says in many of these cases, Kenyan police would take no action at all.
MARY MAKOKHA: I know children who have been sexually abused and the case is dismissed like oh, you are old enough. Or sometimes the parents of the victim are told ah, go and sort this at home, and it ends like that.
WARNER: Liz's case might have ended there, but the police went one step further. They decided that the punishment for the rapists would be to mow the lawn at the police station. That detail caught the attention of a Nairobi reporter, whose story sparked an international petition - Justice for Liz - that garnered more than a million signatures. Still, police refused to re-arrest the assailants. Liz's family was threatened by locals and had to go into hiding. Women's groups held rallies. The county governor and the chief prosecutor in Nairobi called for investigations into Liz's case and more than 70 cases of rapes of girls under 18. For Makokha, who's been advocating on this issue for almost two decades, it felt like a sea change.
MAKOKHA: Cases that had been pending in court, people who had defiled the children and had never been arrested, like, within one month, more people are arrested than had been arrested within a year.
WARNER: Three of Liz's attackers have so far evaded capture. There is still local support for them. But when the other three were sentenced today, a number of rape survivors were in attendance. They wanted to be there when the judge delivered the verdict. Only Liz was not there. She's in witness protection. Well-wishers in Nairobi who read about her case, paid for her fistula surgery, her medical treatment and her relocation. She's out of the wheelchair and back in school, in a new house in a new town. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.
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