Kenyans protest after suspects in teen’s gang rape sentenced to cut grass

Updated 5:36 AM EDT, Fri November 1, 2013

Story highlights

NEW: Police: "We are going to make sure that her case is attended to with ... seriousness"

The 16-year-old was allegedly raped, then dumped in a sewage ditch

Police made the alleged attackers mow a lawn as punishment, then freed them

The teen must use a wheelchair as a result of the rape

(CNN) —  

Hundreds of Kenyans marched through Nairobi on Thursday to demand justice for a teenage girl who was allegedly gang raped, and the suspects ordered to cut grass as punishment.

The 16-year-old was allegedly dumped in a sewage ditch after the attack, local human rights groups said.

Her alleged attackers were ordered to cut grass at the police station as punishment, then later freed, local rights groups said.

The 16-year-old was walking home from her grandfather’s funeral in Busia town when the attack occurred.

Men and women waved underwear, and stuck other underwear on the gates of the police chief’s office.

Some danced, beat drums and cried.

Liz is the nickname given to the teen by the local media. CNN does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Cries for help

Liz was walking home from her grandfather’s funeral in the northwestern town of Busia when the alleged attack occurred.

Hours later, neighbors heard her cries for help and pulled her out of a latrine, bloody with broken bones, rights groups said.

She identified three of her attackers, and neighbors hauled them off to the local police station, the paper said.

Police ordered the suspects to cut grass in the yard, then released them shortly after, according to the newspaper, which is spearheading a fund-raiser to help meet the medical bills for the teen, who’s been nicknamed Liz.

Police ordered the suspects to cut grass in the yard, then released them shortly after, said Milanoi Koiyiet, a representative for Kenya’s Coalition on Violence Against Women, which is providing the teen with free legal help.

Outcry grows after rape suspects are ordered to cut grass as punishment

The suspects’ whereabouts are unknown after they left the police station. But a top aide for the Kenyan police chief said an investigation is under way.

“We are going to make sure that her case is attended to with the seriousness that is deserved and that we are making all efforts to make sure that the culprits are arrested wherever they are,” said William Thwere, chief of staff for Kenya police.

Reports that the suspects have crossed the border to neighboring Uganda will not hamper the investigation, he said.

“We have put mechanisms in place to make sure that they are located even across the border where it is being alleged that they are,” Thwere said.

Word of the attack, which occurred weeks ago, got out this month. An outcry ensued on social media, with Kenyans expressing their dismay using the hashtags #JusticeforLiz and #StandwithLiz. They are demanding the arrest of the suspects and the officers who ordered them to cut grass.

Word of the attack got out in October – three months later — when one of her doctors, outraged by the incident, called a journalist at the Daily Nation newspaper. The newspaper broke the story and is spearheading a fundraiser to pay for her medical bills.

By then, Liz had been hospitalized several times and had to use a wheelchair. She also suffered from a condition that makes her unable to control her bowels as a result of the rape, the Coalition on Violence Against Women said in a statement.

She’s been in and out of the hospital since June. Her mother, a small-scale farmer, leased her land to make extra money to send her to a bigger hospital in the nearby major city of Kakamega, according to Koiyiet.

Outrage on social media

Outraged Kenyans took to social media to demand the arrest of the suspects and the officers who ordered them to cut grass. The six suspects are between the ages of 16 and 20, Koiyiet said.

The global campaigning network Avaaz has launched an online petition demanding justice. It had more than 400,000 signatures by Saturday.

More protests planned

Local rights groups have teamed up to demand justice in the case.

At least 32% of Kenyan girls younger than 18 experience some form of sexual violence, according to a report released last year by the government and the United Nations.

The numbers may be higher because a lot of rapes go unreported for fear of stigma.

If found guilty of gang defilement, the suspects face 15 years to life in prison, Koiyiet said.

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CNN’s Sandra Muhwezi reported from Nairobi, and Faith Karimi wrote and reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Radina Gigova contributed to this report.