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The Price of Visibility: A Queer Activist’s Battle with Online Trolls

By Maryanne W. Waweru

29-year-old Scarlet—her preferred name—is a queer woman based in Nairobi. A passionate social media user, she uses different platforms to express herself, network, earn an income, and engage in advocacy activities. Social media has been instrumental in her growth and development.

However, her presence online has not been rosy, for she has faced terrifying situations that left her scared and scarred. She tells her story in this article.

Threats of rape

“A few years ago, I operated an online clothing business. I would take photos of the items, publish them on different platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, and thereafter make sales. Sometimes, I would dress up in an outfit, post it online, and tag it for sale. It was a good business, which earned me a decent income. 

I vividly remember the day I posted a photo of myself dressed in a beautiful outfit that I was selling on Facebook. One of my male friends then made a comment that would change my life forever.

“If I find you somewhere, I’ll rape you because you are looking for it,” he wrote.

I was confused. What about my outfit had given him the idea that I was ‘looking for it’, and what kind of person was he to publicly post his vile intention to rape me without any fear, shame, or reservation? I was shocked that someone could be so blunt about an intended crime.

Other people did not take his comments kindly either. They bashed him and reprimanded him, asking him to delete his insensitive comment. They attacked him as they defended me. They called him a rapist, which annoyed him and ignited his resolve to attack me more. This he did by sending me a private message that read:

‘I’ll rape you until you become straight (until you stop being queer). I’m serious about this, Scarlet!”

I took his threats seriously and blocked him. He, however, returned with a pseudo account and would repeatedly send me private messages mocking my queerness while continuing to threaten and rape me until I became straight. He joked that I would not take him anywhere because that would mean exposing myself as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The man then escalated this abuse to my Instagram page, where he sent me a private message saying:

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten; I know where you live. This is where I’ll rape you.”

He was very direct with his threats, which made me very paranoid. 

Fleeing my house

I wondered how he knew my place. Even though we were ‘friends’ on Facebook, this man was not someone I would say I knew. He had sent me a friend request, and I had accepted it only because I saw we had some mutual friends. I didn’t know him.

However, he did not appear harmful in any way, as he would always like my posts and had never commented anything negative. It only took the outfit I wore and posted that day for his true colours to come out.

I decided to ask one of our mutual friends if they knew him, and she said she did. She was my neighbour, and she said that, in fact, he too lived in our neighbourhood. That’s how I knew that he meant what he was saying, and this terrified me even more. With the kind of homophobia that exists in Kenyan society and with the negative incidents that are ever being reported in the media, I knew that he meant every word. I wasn’t going to sit back and wait for him to actualize his threats.

I decided to flee my house and seek refuge at my aunt’s place. I didn’t want to take chances. After explaining the situation to my aunt, she too was consumed with fear for me and advised against returning to that neighbourhood. She was so serious that she lent me money to find me a new apartment. I only returned briefly to my house to collect my belongings.

Why I couldn’t file a police report 

My life came to a standstill as I was overwhelmed with a crippling, nagging fear that engulfed me all day long. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and struggled to sleep at night. 

My friends encouraged me to report him to the police, but the thought of exposing myself as a queer woman to people outside my circle stopped me. I was still ‘in the closet’ and I feared that reporting the incident would involve more people, including my family members who didn’t know that I was queer. I also worried about the police interrogating me and harassing me on account of my queerness. Reporting the incident was, therefore, not an option.

Reviving child abuse memories

This man’s actions affected me so much, taking me back to a dark hole I had struggled to get out of for many years. I had been sexually abused at the age of 12, and his comments brought back those painful memories. It was as though the abuse was happening all over again. I decided to seek therapy.

I also decided to leave social media, as the space didn’t feel safe anymore. This meant that my online clothing business collapsed. During that year-long social media hiatus, I took an interest in the plight of vulnerable people like me—queer women who are vulnerable to abuse—both online and offline. I also noted other groups of vulnerable women, such as sex workers, who suffered in silence. I enrolled in a paralegal course and began advocating for the inclusivity, mental health, and sexual wellness of members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other minority populations.

Returning to social media

When I started my advocacy activities, I felt confident enough to return online. I started publishing posts on my social media platforms where I spoke about the need to safeguard all human rights. I learned a lot from my paralegal course and my interactions with people from minority groups, including the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, I realized that while I had grown as an individual, the online world had barely changed.

Social media still wasn’t a safe space, and this was evidenced by some of the comments made on my posts. I would receive a lot of homophobic comments, where people threatened to find me and harm me just because I was posting about LGBTQIA+ issues.

“You deserve to die and be placed inside a metal box,” one commented recently.

Taking social media breaks

To be honest, these comments sometimes drain me mentally. Even if I have the desire to keep going because I feel that my advocacy work is important, the comments still trigger fear in me. This has led me to take regular social media breaks where I go offline completely for days or weeks to just recharge, refocus, and renew my inner resolve and spirit to keep fighting for members of minority groups.

It has been a long, five-year journey since the incident happened, and I’ve never fully healed from it. I rarely use Facebook, as memories of the incident still hurt me. 

Taking charge of my security 

Also related to that incident, 99% of my friends today don’t know where I live. I still have paranoia. I’ve disconnected the location icon on my phone to make it difficult for anyone to locate me. I still suffer the paranoia of someone coming to attack me in my home, just as they have done to other LGBTQIA+ individuals. 

I feel better equipped to deal with online bullying now than I did then. I have learned that while I cannot control what people say, I can certainly act against them. I now have the confidence to report such cases of online harassment to the police. I have come to understand that the police can trace you, no matter where you are, even if you use a pseudo account. They have the means and resources to find you, and they will. 

Additionally, after my training and practice as a paralegal, I am in contact with several human rights lawyers who would gladly assist me with my case. I now know that the police will take your case more seriously if you report it when accompanied by a lawyer, especially if you are a woman.


  1. Navigating the Digital Battlefield: Wanjiku Thiga’s Experience in Kenya’s 2022 General Election
  2. Private: Hated, but Unafraid: Living with HIV in the Age of Online Hate
  3. The Price of Visibility: A Queer Activist’s Battle with Online Trolls

This interview is part of KICTANet and APC’s Our Voices Our (OVOF) work. This anthology of stories under the title “Narratives of Strength and Survival” is aimed at documenting the lived experiences of Kenyan women and girls who have faced online gender-based violence at a personal level.


David Indeje information

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