Reporting sexual and gender based violence in Uganda

Anita, 25, intimate partner violence survivor
“I moved to Uganda from Rwanda five years ago to start a new life away from my ex. I got a job in marketing, and fell in love with the father of my child, Wabwire.

We had a nice relationship for two years, but when I told him I was pregnant, he totally changed. Wabwire said he wasn’t ready for that, and started acting violent and leaving me alone for weeks. He wanted me to abort but I couldn’t because I’m a Christian. He chased me out of the house, so I started living at friend’s places. On top of this, I lost my job during the lockdown.

One time I tried to go back to the house to talk to him and he strangled me and tried to throw me down the stairs. My friend persuaded me to report the case, so I went to the police after the hospital. They told me to come back the next day because the Child and Family Protection Officer wasn’t there.

When I went back, I saw nothing was being taken seriously. The Officer in Charge is Wabwire’s friend. The police tried to counsel us, saying that we needed to give each other space and that maybe things will get better when the baby arrives. I also saw Wabwire enter a room with the officer. I don’t know what they talked about, but my case was closed – just like that. I’m sure there was money involved because he’s done business with that officer before. Justice in Uganda is like money is more valuable than a human. All that we need are some truthful people to help us.

The second time I went to the police was after he punched me in the eye. The health workers at the hospital told me ‘this man is violent. You have to stay far from him for the sake of your health and your kid. Either one or both of you might lose your life.’ This time I tried a different police station, and they wanted to come for Wabwire but he disappeared to another town. They gave up because he couldn’t be found, and I didn’t have enough money to pay for their transport.

It’s hard when you don’t have someone to follow your case or enough money to pay the police to put energy in things, so you just end up giving up. I was pregnant and couldn’t use the little money I had – which I needed for the baby – to keep following his dad.

I called Wabwire when I was going into labour, but he never came. After I gave birth I went to our house but he had changed the locks. All the things for my baby were in the house. I reported it to the police because I wanted him to be tracked down and to take care of his responsibilities. They called him and he said he was going to come in a few hours. We waited but he never showed up.

They are trying to track Wabwrire down so he can pay child support. But right now, I’m thinking of the future of me and my kid, not him.”

Mirembe, 23, sexual harassment and assault survivor

“When I finished university it was difficult to get work, so I was excited when I got an interview with a good organisation. But after the interview, the director, Kato, kept pestering to see me. He started making advances, saying ‘I like you, you’re beautiful, maybe I can even get you a better job than the one you applied for.’ I told him no, I wouldn’t want to be given a job because someone thinks I am pretty. What would my workmates think about me if I got a role I was clearly not qualified for?

The first time it happened was in his car. Kato had taken me on a tour of the organisation after everyone had left. A dog came around and was barking. I fear dogs, so I rushed back into the car. He followed me inside and locked it. He started stroking me and saying how attracted he was to me, but I kept saying no, I wouldn’t be comfortable with moving out with a married man. Kato said he’s not happy with his wife, and that he wants to build something with me. Finally I said maybe I’ll think about it, but not now, so let’s go home.

He refused, and tried to kiss me. Then he adjusted the car seat, and pulled up my skirt. We had a struggle, but he has really big arms so he held me and came to my seat. He kissed me, touched me and forced me to have sex. I just kept quiet, and then started to cry. Kato told me not to tell my family anything, and to go to the doctor the next day to make sure I’m not pregnant. When I visited the family doctor he told me I had an infection and needed medication.

Kato told me I had got the job, and we continued to have sex, but I felt used. I didn’t have that excitement I had before about the job, when I thought people would appreciate me for my knowledge and my skills. But later, he changed his mind anyway. He started to push me away, saying it wouldn’t be comfortable to work in that environment because of his wife.

I reported him for sexual harassment, but Kato also launched a police case against me after my family confronted him about what he had done. One time I was held at the police station officers were on the phone to Kato asking him to give them more money. At some point one police officer showed me his WhatsApp messages with him – they wrote to Kato saying that ‘the mission is complete’ and ‘I want my final payment.’ After one meeting we had with police and our lawyers, I even saw Kato give the police officers cash. Another time, one officer called me saying he was paid to arrest me and that if I paid him more the case against me would be dropped. He asked me for different amounts of between two and three million shillings.

Eventually I was detained in prison for two months during lockdown, and again and again was denied access to a lawyer and bail. My lawyer reported the police officers involved for invasion of privacy, harassment and illegal phone tapping, under the instruction of Kato. The case he has against me is ongoing, but my case against him is not moving in the court.

When I tried to talk to Kato about everything, he just rubbished me like it’s not anything. To him, he thinks he can get away with it so I was wasting his time. But I thought if I spoke out, maybe it could help someone out there in another situation similar to mine.”

Esther, 41, intimate partner violence survivor

“I travelled from the village to Kampala to visit my sister who was working in the city as a housemaid. I fell in love with her neighbour, and took him to meet my family. Two months after meeting, Robert and I moved in together, though we were not yet legally married.

Things started to go wrong after I gave birth to our child. The pregnancy almost killed me, and the baby was unwell. I thought it was because we hadn’t named him, which is tradition, but even after we gave the baby a name he was still getting sick. Whenever I took our child to hospital, Robert would never come with me. The doctor said he should be reported to the police for neglecting us, but I said no – I didn’t want him to go to prison.

When he was 7 months old and still sickly, Robert started beating me, saying that a child like this could not be his. I still get migraines from all the times he hit my head against the wall. He would hurt our baby too. The one thing they would always tell me at the government hospital was to leave Robert.

One time after he strangled me I went to the police, who could see my swollen neck. They called Robert and our LC (Local Councillor), but they refused to come. The problem is that all these people respect Robert as an older man in the community.So I tried a bigger police station, who told the local station to work on my case – but when I went back there, they asked me for money to file the case.

After some years, Robert left me for another woman. He took her to a house we had bought together, and left me at our old place. One day, I asked Robert’s son – who is now an adult – for money to help clean the toilet. He attacked me and tried to remove my eye, leaving a wound on my face. The son often told me that if Robert didn’t take my life, he would.

I ran to the police at about 9pm that night, but the Child and Family Protection Officer wasn’t there, and I was told I needed a hospital letter to report my case. Next day, two officers came with me to arrest the son, but Robert was there. He said ‘my son isn’t going anywhere,’ and I watched him bribe the police officers with 10,000 Shillings ($2.50) to leave. Robert told me that he will always win because he is educated and I am not.

Every time I went to our LC for help, he’d tell me to talk my issues through with Robert and be a good wife. Robert would always give the chairman money, but at some point he realised Robert might kill me, and told me to get help. He said there was no point going to the police, and that nobody in our community had the power to protect me, so he gave me a phone number he had seen on TV for women in violent relationships.

This is how I ended up at this shelter, and even speaking to the Minister for Youth and Children on the TV station. The Minister told me to go to the police and get an agreement for Robert to take care of the child, though I can’t claim more than that because we never legally married.

The police should be less corrupt, and help people without asking for money. I have even heard that if you are a poor person you can’t afford to go to court, which needs to change. Hospitals should be better equipped with the medicine that women like me need, when we need it. Finally, women need financial independence so we don’t have to depend on men who end up mistreating us.”

Atim, mother of 6-year-old sexual abuse survivor

“When I discovered my daughter had been sexually assaulted, I rushed her to the hospital where they found medical evidence of sexual penetration. She was six years old at the time.

Soon after I reported the case to the police, and the man who did it was arrested. The police never asked us for money. I am from a poor family, but I think the man’s family has connections.

His employers came to the police station to see the perpetrator after he was arrested, and he was crying. They then went into a certain room to talk with the police. I don’t know what they were discussing, but a week later the man was released. The perpetrator’s uncle also called my husband and tried to give him money to drop the case. When my husband refused, the uncle said they could kill us at any time. We were so scared. He said ‘if you refuse the money, we know what we will do.’

They must have taken the money to the police or the court, because on the day of court we were not called inside. I was waiting with my family for the case to start at 2pm as we were told, but instead I cried as we watched the perpetrator get released – the case had gone ahead without us. He had only stayed in prison for a month and a half.

They wanted us to go away while they released the man, but for me I did not go anywhere and I saw them release him with my own eyes. They changed the charge sheet from ‘aggravated defilement’ to the lesser crime of ‘indecent assault.’ Now this is being investigated, the police are supposed to be searching for that man to re-arrest him but I think they have already killed the case. No one is even bothering.

They called me to take my girl’s clothes, because when it happened she was bleeding. They wanted to take them to Kampala for tests, but up to now we have had no feedback about that test. The last time I went to the police station was with the Woman MP for my area, who had made an appointment for us to discuss the case. But when we arrived no one was there – they had all escaped, because they were failing to explain what happened.

The way I’m seeing them, they are just relaxed as if this man did not do bad things. Up to now I’m not happy with any police. I want them to look for that man, bring him back and we go for court. They need to punish him for what he did.”

Rose, 39, intimate partner violence survivor

“I got together with Andrew when I was 27, and he was 41. Three months into the marriage, I realised it wasn’t going to work. He would come home late every night and deny me sex, and his family treated me badly.

Andrew is a judicial officer at the High Court. Before I met him, I had been recruited into the police as an Assistant Superintendent. But Andrew said he wouldn’t feel comfortable staying with a police officer, so I should give up that job.

After that, I thought about leaving him but I was already pregnant with our first child so I decided to wait and see if things changed after the birth. But even after we had more children he continued to mistreat me. He didn’t want me to work and he didn’t want to provide anything for our family. I think he thought I would be easier to control if I had no money.

I began working against his will, but when he found out he told me he wanted me out of his house. I said I wouldn’t leave unless he found me a place to stay. He then went to the police and said that he found a knife in my bag and that I wanted to kill him. The officer didn’t believe him, and advised me to get out of the man’s life because he might kill me.

Andrew would say that if I ever tried to spoil his image as a government worker that he would kill me. He doesn’t want the public to know that he has failed with managing his home when he’s managing public issues.

During lockdown we had to go and stay with him in his village in order to survive. One night, he brought a man with a gun to the house to kill me but I escaped. The next day was a bad day. He drove me to the police station, left me in the car and came out with three officers. He ordered them to ‘get her out of my car and embarrass her! You can even detain her!” They pulled my dress and legs and arms, and tried to undress me. I didn’t want to be embarrassed so I ran away.

Then Andrew started getting serious. He punched and kicked me in the stomach because some of my children were delivered by cesarean, so I am sensitive there. After our house help stopped him, I went into the kitchen, made tea and started peeling matooke. I wanted to show him that though he has beaten me, I am still around.

Before, he told me if I reported him he would kill me. But this time I realised I had nothing to lose, so I went to a police station in another town and filed a case of assault and threatening violence. The police called Andrew to the station, but he said he had no time to come. They then transferred the case back to the station in Andrew’s home town, who said they cannot follow up a case which has no evidence.

Police, whoever gives them something small for that day is what they go with. Even if you are suffering or crying, they can throw you out or beat you up. They don’t chase the truth, they chase the money.

I have escaped now, and wrote to the Principal Judge about my case. It’s still under investigation by CID, but I know Andrew is using money to weaken the case. Officers travelled from Kampala to investigate, but Andrew paid two of my own sisters not to give statements – and officers prevented my main witness of the assault from narrating her whole story. Andrew called and told me ‘if you don’t drop that case, you know you cannot win.’”

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