Uganda. From rapist to advocate, the boy who is changing his society

Date 13.04.2021

Mbale City is overshadowed by the high Mountain Elgon in Eastern Uganda. Its fertile soils are a source of fresh foods to the busy city. Amidst the full-of-activity streets and cheerful dwellers, a maleficent gang was steadily growing.

In 2018, a 15 year old boy named Simon (fictional name) grew interest in his classmate’s adventures. He always had thrilling tales of night activities and did many things without fear, he spoke highly of his street friends, and Simon wanted to meet them. This is how Simon was introduced to the notoriousdo or die crew” where he later learnt that this name meant you either submit to the group’s demands or die. To the group it was that simple for the members to adhere to their rules.

Simon soon caught up to speed with the crew’s activities, from snatching phones and ladies handbags, the ill-famed gang also threatened young girls into having sex with them at any time they so desired. For fear of their lives, many young girls in Mbale Northern Division fell victim of the “do or die crew”.

2021. Uganda - No Means No Project Simon 2
2021. Uganda - No Means No Project Simon 3

As the crew’s activities widened, the local authorities assisted by the police ran a crackdown. Several of the “do or die” leaders and members were arrested, tried and taken to the Maluku prison, dismantling the group and bringing a halt to their activities. It was in this period that a former crew member introduced Simon to No Means No, a six months program implementated by AVSI from October 2020 to March 2021 and funded by No Means No Worldwide that promotes a rape-free world.

“When I joined, the instructors took us through six classes and in class four is where I learnt that consent differentiates rape from sex. I realized I had been a rapist this whole time. I was hurting but I wanted help to heal from my past,” he explains.

Simon who is now focused on his dream to become a veterinary doctor invited other former crew members, six of whom are now active participants in the program.

“I have four sisters at home. I couldn’t imagine what I did happening to them, so I have decided to protect young girls. I am here to protect girls.” he adds. Simon is back in school.

About the No Means No Program

No Means No Program is a six months program (October 2020 – March 2021) funded by No Means No Worldwide. The goal of the program is to create a rape-free world.

AVSI implemented activities of the program in the sub counties of Bufumbo, Bungokho, Northern Division and Busoba in Eastern Uganda, reaching 2,764 boys and 1,970 girls to improve their verbal and physical skills in preventing sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence among girls while reshaping boys’ harmful beliefs around gender and sexuality using the highlighted approach:

  • awareness creation among Local Governments, care givers, other community members,
  • mobilizing target youths in the communities,
  • identifying and verifying safe spaces for session delivery,
  • forming youth groups according to their age units and session delivery,
  • field visits and program assessments.
  • mapping referral services available in the community to provide support for post-violence care.
  • holding end of month meetings with instructors, government structures and other gender-based violence prevention service providers.

The Power of the Survivors In Recovery Anonymous (SIRA program)

Youth who experienced sexual violence were mobilized to form SIRA groups where they received counselling to heal from trauma associated with abuse, and where thanks to the experiences shared they were able to cope and know that it was not their fault that they were abused but the fault of their perpetrator. Bringing victims together helped them share their experiences in verified safe spaces.

200 youth (160 boys and 40 girls) disclosed that they experienced forms of sexual abuse and were provided with counselling for survivors in recovery anonymous and linked to health facilities for HIV testing.

These youth were also provided with other continuous response components such as home visitation, and since some of the perpetrators lived with the victims in the same household, AVSI networked with the Community Development Officer for the sub county to have the victims relocated to their other relatives for safety.