A former basketball player in Kenya said sexual abuse had plagued the country’s women’s football “for many, many years” but a climate of fear prevents victims from speaking out.
Now in her thirties, she says she was sexually assaulted by one of her coaches when she started playing.
Her comments come with African women’s basketball in the spotlight after the release last week of an official report that detailed “institutionalized sexual abuse” dating back decades in the Malian game.
âBasketball players all over Kenya know these things but people have remained silent,â the Kenyan victim, whom we call Rachel to protect her identity, told BBC Sport Africa. “Lots of girls have been used but they don’t mean anything.”
âThere were so many girls I see, even in big teams here, but they’re all silent. I think people got scared. In Kenya people were used.â
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Rachel said the abuse was often linked to promises to advance the careers of young players, many of whom were teenagers at the time.
Rachel was unwittingly speaking about an ongoing Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in Kenyan basketball.
The international campaign group has played a key role in helping some of those who have suffered long-standing abuses in Mali, which has been exposed in a report commissioned by the governing body of basketball Fiba, find their voice.
HRW is now turning its attention to Kenya.
“Human Rights Watch is examining and expressing concern about reports of sexual abuse of young female athletes from the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF),” Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at HRW, told BBC Sport Africa.
âNational basketball officials have a duty to protect young players and ensure their safety. La Fiba, the world basketball federation, has a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual abuse in sport.
“It is the responsibility of Fiba and all national sports federations to ensure a safe environment for teenage players, to expel abusers from sport and to ensure justice for harassment and gender-based violence.”
“I need to save myself”
HRW’s statement comes a month after a recent KBF executive committee member was cleared of attempting to sexually assault a 22-year-old basketball player in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
In July, Philip Onyango – considered one of the country’s most successful coaches and who has previously coached Kenya’s junior women’s teams – voluntarily stepped down from his various roles as a police investigation into the allegations of the woman was being led.
The next day, the FRB âexpelled [Onyango] of all basketball responsibilities and activities “with immediate effect as a result of their own preliminary investigation.
Onyango, who also works as a basketball reporter, strongly denied any wrongdoing. He was subsequently cleared by the police because of insufficient evidence. He has not yet been reinstated in any of his previous roles within the KBF.
Contacted by the BBC, the 22-year-old expressed her dismay at the result of the police investigation.
“The case was closed because there was no evidence,” she said. “I was so disappointed.”
The case only came about after a friend of the 22-year-old secretly recorded a conversation as the latter detailed the allegations. The audio file was not only sent to KBF but also to many members of the basketball community.
Rachel says she was inspired by recent events, which brought back memories of her abuse.
“If this is something that will liberate Kenyan basketball, why not?” she explained. “I need to save others, and I need to save myself. I am doing something that takes me through a healing process.”
She says she didn’t report at the time because she didn’t think you would believe her, while feeling that many others also failed to do so because of fear. to lose their place in their teams.
The BBC has heard from three other women who say they suffered abuse or attempted abuse during their teenage years.
âWe were so young you couldn’t explain yourself – no one was listening to you then. They would think you were lying,â one said.
“Stop sexual harassment”
Just as the police were conducting their investigation, a petition created to “Stop Sexual Harassment” in Kenya surfaced online with the KBF itself accused of “turning a blind eye” to it.
The petition has collected 2,000 signatures at the time of publication.
When asked how it responded to allegations that it ignored and ‘authorized’ abuse dating back 15 years, KBF told the BBC it condemned any ‘violation of [Kenya’s] Sexual Offenses Act in the strongest possible terms “.
âAs a sign of our commitment and our willingness to cooperate with the authorities, we have published a circular calling on any female athlete with information on any action aimed at violating this law to contact the ministerial committee set up to investigate the matter. this case. does not matter, âhe added.
In July, the Kenyan government created a Committee on Gender Welfare in Sport with the aim of providing appropriate support to female athletes in the country’s national teams.
The Sports Ministry also called on “athletes who may be affected to report incidents of abuse or harassment” to the committee, whose findings have not yet been made public.
The captain of the Kenya senior women’s basketball team said she fully supports the new measures.
“It is a sensitive subject, but it is high time it was brought to light,” Rose Ouma, who says she has not been affected, told BBC Sport Africa.
âNow that it’s featured, that means our daughters, us as women, are getting the attention we need so that it’s not a cycle that repeats over and over again.
âIt’s not just sport, it’s in society it is therefore high time to take care of it. Girls who have been victimized need help expressing themselves psychologically, physically and emotionally. ”
“For those who have been victimized, we need these people to come out so that we know what the dangerous places are – so that we can let others know.”
Kenya was eliminated from the African Women’s Basketball Championships in Cameroon.
In Mali, seven members of the national basketball federation were suspended by basketball governing body Fiba following the release of last week’s report.
The investigation concluded that the Malian federation had covered up the abuses committed by its own staff, with the former coach of the junior women’s team, Amadou Bamba, currently in prison awaiting trial for offenses he denies.
Relying on the testimonies of 31 witnesses, and 22 others refusing to speak, the report exonerated the president of Fiba, Hamane Niang, of having neglected the abuses while leading the federation of Mali from 1999 to 2007.