Growing up in Australia, Charlotte’s South African father would send her to sleep with stories of African wildlife and landscapes, the continent had already captured her imagination. When as an adult she arrived in Nairobi to work on a project in the Kawangare slums, she wasn’t disappointed. She says “it was this urban hustlely-bustley world…and staying out where I was staying there was this Africa thing going on… the giraffe in the drive way the first day we woke up.”
Feeling confident navigating the slums of the city did not prepare Charlotte for the morning, 2 months into her stay, when she returned to her cottage and found a gang of men inside. What followed was a horrific 8 hour ordeal, including gang rape. However Charlotte was never a victim “by remaining calm they took no power from me” she explains “I realised that day that these are young, disenfranchised men who’ve grown up with violence all their lives…but even after what they had done, they still had empathy for me”.
It was after the gang had left that Charlotte’s current journey began. Sitting in a doctor’s office after being examined, she discovered that medication could be given which would prevent HIV. Working with women and abused children in the slums she had never heard of this drug “That’s the bit where I snapped” she says. “This is withholding information that can save people’s lives” she told the doctor. The next day Charlotte started the 72 Hour campaign with Amnesty International to spread the word about the medication.
For Charlotte working with the police in Kenya to get justice has been a mixed experience. She describes Geoff Kinuya as “an angel” who took her statement, found her attackers and has supported her through her seven year court-case. Other policeman acted more like “voyeurs” intrigued to see a “mzungu” (foreigner) discussing rape.
The legal system has been something Charlotte has also endured, her case was restarted 8 times and she was allocated 17 different prosecutors. She describes it as “revisiting trauma…you’ve got those men sitting there in the dock still laughing”. She now advocates for change there, working with magistrates and lawyers to get justice for Kenyan women.
Ultimately Charlotte says that this journey has been all about the women she works with on the ground “the strength, the resilience I see is profound and once you get them to tap into that the sky is the limit.”
Charlotte’s incredible story I Will Not Be Silenced has been covered in a documentary released this year.