On September 29th, 2020, Edward Kisuze, a senior Administrative Assistant at Makerere University was convicted of the offence of indecent assault against Racheal Njoroge, a former student at the university. Outrageously, while the offence committed by Kisuze attracts a maximum sentence of 14 years, he was sentenced to only two years imprisonment or a fine of UGX 4,000,000, which he promptly paid and walked away a free man.
Kisuze was in April 2018 charged with two counts; attempted rape contrary to section 125 of the Penal Code Act Cap 120, and Indecent Assault contrary to section 128(1) of the Penal Code Act Cap 120. The charges were brought against him after a photograph showing him in the process of sexually assaulting Rachel circulated online. Rachel had gone to the university to certify her transcript and pick her recommendation letter. Kisuze capitalised on his authority and position to sexually abuse her while in his office.
Racheal documented the assault, hoping that she could disprove the scores of people who constantly question and undermine the experiences of survivors. However, this evidence was instead used to vilify and re-traumatise her. The public’s reaction to the photograph circulating online proved that rape culture pervades our spaces and there is no vested interest in holding perpetatrators accountable. No matter the evidence and the facts of the case, the woman will be held solely responsible for sexual violence perpetrated against her . The photograph was picked apart and treated as tabloid fodder with many people looking at the assault as another salacious piece of gossip about a supposed ‘affair turned sour’, and not a gross violation of a woman’s body. The media, which constantly trivializes the experiences of survivors, played a role in enabling this disgusting discourse, calling it a “romantic act.”
Racheal’s life has never been the same again after that vicious and gruesome violation of her rights and abuse of her body. She has since been traumatized by social media trolls, lost her relationship with her father, and also lost friends and opportunities. During her trial, she attended a job interview she thought had gone well only to be asked to ‘sort her issues because her photos were all over the internet’. In spite of this, Kisuze’s penalty was a slap on the wrist. And now he is shamelessly appealing the sentence, sending Racheal into another spiral of pain and shame.
As the women’s movement, we are incredibly disappointed in this judgement but ultimately not surprised, as we have been primed to never expect justice from a system designed to favour perpetrators. However, as citizens with rights and entitlements, we remain relentless in our
pursuit of accountability and shall not rest until justice becomes a given, for women in all their diversities.
We therefore protest this sentence and appeal in the strongest terms. Women in Uganda have for long waited in pain and silence for a demonstration of justice for survivors of sexual violence. Accommodating this appeal will expose the limitations of Uganda’s legal system which encourages women to report violence and assault on the one hand, but punishes offenders with bare minimum sentences on the other.
How does this system deter sexual offenders? How do women in Uganda continue to exist in a system that does not believe them?
It is time that the court set a precedent. Perpetrators like Edward Kisuze should be held accountable for their actions with maximum punishment and no redress. We demand that:
- Court dismisses this case or revisits its facts and gives the offender a befitting sentence. We also pray to the court to dismiss this appeal with contempt. Not only did the survivor suffer more than two years of meeting the person who violated her, in court, she continues facing abuse on social media where she is called derogatory names, and images she took in a desperate moment to register evidence continue to circulate. The quashing of this conviction means that Kisuze will be free to return to public life with a clean slate, as if the untold suffering that Racheal experienced never happened. Furthermore, alhough Kisuze was a first time offender, we cannot rule out that he misused his position in an institution with rampant cases of sexual abuse, to perpetrate similar acts.
- Court should mandate and ensure funding for psychosocial support for survivors of violence like Racheal. The suffering of survivors does not cease once a sentence is handed down. Also, the dehumanizing nature of sexual violence means this is the only way to set a survivor towards a path of healing, particularly for a high profile case such as this one.
- The media needs to understand the enormity of the responsibility they have in shaping public opinion and discourse, and how this can be instrumentalized to build or break. The media have been called on time and again to exercise good judgement and empathy when reporting cases of sexual violence; being mindful of the language deployed and the framing of a story. However, they are more invested in selling scandals at the expense of survivors’ wellbeing. We call on media houses to invest in sensitivity training for reporters, editors and producers to ensure responsive coverage. The media should also focus their stories on demand for accountability from perpetrators and the justice system instead looking for salacious stories to further victimise. Survivors of sexual violence are first human beings, before they are a story.
To Racheal Njoroge, the women in Uganda stand in solidarity with you. We are sorry that after two years of having to face your abuser in court, this appeal opens up fresh wounds and keeps you from getting closure. We are angry, hurt and disappointed, just like you are, that this system once again let you down. We will keep trying. We will keep showing up in ways big and small, even if just to hold your hand.
We call upon all women in Uganda to show stand with Rachel and share messages of solidarity using the hashtag #IstandWithRacheal. If the justice system won’t hear us, we shall use all the tools at our disposal for our voices to be heard. We need justice for Racheal, and justice for all survivors of sexual violence!