Women’s Experiences Reporting Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Uganda (Part II)

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 wer

e 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.’”

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 he totally changed when I told him I was pregnant. 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 a friend’s place. 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.”


This series is published in partnership with Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) and feminist journalist Alice McCool to bring five stories of survivors of sexual; a six-year-old, a 23-year-old university graduate, a 25-year-old refugee, a 39-year-old police officer, and a 41 one-year-old domestic worker. This #16DayOfActivism AMwA is partnering with African Feminism to share these stories to highlight the challenges and demand accountability for the glaring failure of Uganda’s justice system to support the survivors. In the pursuit of justice and confronting both state and social barriers to accountability for sexual and gender-based violence, there’s need to rethink responses to violence against women towards more survivor-centered approaches. We join the rest of the world in the collective call to end violence against women and girls NOW!

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