Kick, scream, poke his eyes out: Do whatever it takes

Despite Kenya's soaring rape rates, some locals are skeptical of self-defense classes.

Published August 25, 2006 7:04PM (EDT)

Today Reuters profiles karate expert Duncan Bomba, who is teaching women and girls in Kenya to defend themselves from rape by any means necessary. Despite the country's high rape rates -- by some accounts, a woman is raped there every half-hour -- it's the only program in the region that teaches violence as a defense to rape, and it's a controversial approach at that.

In 1998, Bomba founded Dolphin, the group that organizes these lessons at churches and schools, and he has since taught nearly 350,000 students self-defense. His message is to be vicious and do whatever it takes to stop your attacker; that includes kicking, screaming, spitting and poking his eyes out. "Look at this man as a killer," he tells his students. "Look at him as AIDS. Look at him as unwanted pregnancies."

Still, the approach has stirred up disagreement. Sam Thenya, head of the Nairobi Women's Hospital, said, "I don't see how a 20-year-old girl, even with (such) skills, would be able to disarm five gangsters." He also suggested that violently fighting back "can provoke an even more severe reaction and someone might be murdered." And beyond that, rape by relatives is a serious problem in Kenya and Thenya, suggesting that preventive measures need to start at home. "Everyone must look for ways to protect children and look for potential perpetrators in the home," he said.

Bomba says his group has been successful in preventing rapes, and the Reuters piece highlights the story of two past students: A 41-year-old woman was able to fight off two armed attackers, and an 8-year-old deterred an attacker by "jabbing her fingers into his eye sockets." Still, the statistics are much less encouraging. According to Reuters, a 2003 report found that "rape and other sexual attacks had increased four-fold since 1999." Kenya recently toughened its punishments for rapists -- some will now face life imprisonment -- but Bombo says "the damage is done."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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