Meet the criminology student determined to stop child abuse
Growing up in fear
When Irene was sexually abused as a child she kept it all in. She was six years old when it started. Threatened by her abuser, she was too scared to tell anyone, even her mum, and became very shy.
“I grew up fearing people so much. I had a problem talking to people.”
At 23, Irene heard about a free text helpline supporting survivors of violence and decided to volunteer. This has done wonders for her confidence and finally helped her come to terms with what she experienced herself all those years ago.
Getting work experience for her career
Now 24, Irene lives in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and has been volunteering at the helpline — supported by ActionAid — for two years.
“I studied criminology and mostly focussed on gender-based violence, so I decided to come to the helpline so that I can get that experience.”
She volunteers once a week, on Fridays. She’s in the office from 8am-5pm but is on duty for 24 hours until the next volunteer takes over.
When she receives a text alert she calls the survivor back to find out what’s happened and talks them through next steps before passing them on to the relevant services.
“After referring them I’ll continue calling them to check how the case is going. If it’s a rape case, we make sure they go to the hospital.”
The job involves talking to doctors, police and lawyers as well as survivors, so she’s been given plenty of training, including communication skills and how to handle different cases.
Finding her own voice
It was only after her training and working on cases that Irene’s been able to start healing and speaking about her own experience.
“I used to fear people so much, but now I think I’m okay. I have healed. I can talk with people and interact.”
And she finally felt able to tell her mum.
“When I told her she was like, ‘What?’. Yeah, she was very surprised.”
Irene thinks that if the helpline had existed when she was younger it would have made a big difference.
“The training has helped me so much. I am teaching young kids so that they can open up and tell an adult if they are being abused, so they don’t have to go through what I went through.”
Seeing the impact in her community
Irene can see the impact the team’s work is having. She thinks the key to the helpline’s success is the privacy factor.
“It has really helped people who are scared of the perpetrator – or who find it difficult to report the case because they fear being notice – to get help.”
And, with ActionAid’s ongoing support, the helpline is now reaching people beyond Mukuru.
“The best thing about it is that people who are far away can feel free to report a case and get help. It has created awareness – people are free to talk about gender based-violence and it has really helped.”