Used and Abused: A Case for a Paradigm Shift in GBV reporting

Access to JusticeAugust 6, 20210 CommentsKituo Cha Sheria

By: Nelius Njuguna Volunteer Advocate, Kituo cha Sheria

Introduction to GBV

Gender based violence (GBV) has been defined by the United Nations as violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex. This includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.

Statistics on GBV in Kenya

Gender based violence in its multiple forms has undeniably been on the rise during the Covid 19 pandemic. Statistics by the Ministry of Public Service and Gender indicate that gender based violence cases in 2020 increased by 36 per cent with 5,009 cases being reported. The number of cases reported are quite low considering that the National Crime and Research Centre found in one of their studies that 38.0 per cent of women and 20.9 per cent of men have experienced gender based violence in their lifetime. Of these survivors, 37.7 per cent of women and 48.6 per cent of men had experienced gender based violence within the last 12 months.

The discrepancy between the number of survivors of gender based violence and the cases reported is a clear indicator that most cases of GBV go unreported. The question that then craves attention is why many survivors of gender based violence do not report their cases.

Reporting of GBV at Police Stations

Any person who has survived gender based violence can tell you of the negative physical and mental effects they experienced. Not only do they experience physical effects such as bruises, cuts, pelvic pain and other injuries but they may also experience fear, anger, confusion and shame. The whole experience can be traumatizing for most survivors. Consequently, these survivors ought to be treated delicately with compassion and dignity. Nevertheless, the experience of survivors when reporting their cases at police stations often adds to their trauma which discourages most survivors from reporting. 

A number of studies have found that most survivors of GBV are often discouraged from reporting due to lack of adequate reporting mechanisms at police stations. Police stations are meant to have gender desks to deal with survivors of GBV. However, most police stations lack model gender desks that offer reasonable accommodation to GBV survivors. The effect of this is that most stations resort to handling GBV with other cases thus openly risking violation of the privacy of the survivors.

The few stations with gender desks have them poorly structured and with no adequate resources. For instance, most gender desk spaces are set up publicly, depriving survivors of the much needed privacy. Many gender desks are also understaffed and the officers manning them are not specifically trained to deal with GBV. The police stations often lack safe rooms to accommodate survivors who are still in trauma and cannot go back home, many of whom are sometimes kept in police cell. Additionally, the gender desks are poorly financed with some lacking the capacity to provide basic in-situ service such as P3 forms and transport to hospitals.

The survivors who report GBV have equally faced anguished reception at most gender desks due to unconducive space for reporting GBV. Most often, cases of survivors being laughed at, mocked and being blamed by the officers have been reported. Some survivors are at times forced to reconcile with perpetrators, an end they most likely did not desire. Other survivors have in addition endured unwanted solicitation for bribe from officers to bring the suspects to book. The experience in police stations for most survivors has mainly been associated with humiliation, lack of dignity and common human courtesy.


The underlying challenges of police gender desks can for the most part be attributed to lack of adequate funds and lack of proper training of police officers on handling GBV. There is urgent need for paradigm shift in handling of GBV cases. Most importantly, there is a need to train police officers to handle GBV cases as a long term investment in fighting the scourge as well as restoring confidence and dignity among survivors. There is also a need to allocate more funds to police gender desks. These funds would go towards creating private rooms to report GBV in, offering transport to hospitals, creating more safe rooms and safe houses, and offering psychosocial support to survivors of GBV.

The government has on it part tried severally to deal with these challenges but a lot is to be desired. It is high time that GBV was treated as a priority as it has the potency to threaten the basic unit of the society, the family. Only then can survivors of GBV have the access to justice that they so greatly desire.

Nelius Njuguna is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and a fellow of the East Africa Emerging Public Interest Advocates Programme. She is also a founder of Jinsia Justice, an organization that uses the law to champion for gender equality and inclusion. She avails her voice on behalf of marginalized and vulnerable persons.


– UN Declaration on Elimination of Violence Against Women

– National Crime and Research Centre, Gender Based Violence in Kenya (2014)

– Institute of Economic Affairs, Status of gender desks at police stations in Kenya: A case study of Nairobi Province, Nairobi: Institute of Economic Affairs – Kenya (2009)

– Ndungu A, The effectiveness of Police Gender Desks in addressing Gender Based Violence: A Case of Nyandarua County Kenya (2016)

– Ndubi M, Reporting rape cases at police stations in Kenya: Human rights dimensions of victims experiences in Nairobi County (2019).

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