How alarm raising system is keeping Nakuru sex workers safe from sexual based violence


Cases of farmers losing their money to commercial sex workers who spike their drinks in bars are common whenever the annual bonuses are paid out.
Cases of farmers losing their money to commercial sex workers who spike their drinks in bars are common whenever the annual bonuses are paid out.

By Jackson Ambole Okata

Worth Noting:

  • “They took me to a back street clinic where I received first aid to stop the bleeding before being transferred to a government hospital for stitching,”
  • The attack left Grace with scars on her thighs, scars she says will remain a reminder of how risky her work is.
  • Commercial sex work remains outlawed under sections 153,154,155,156,157 and 183 of the Kenyan penal code and many who engage in it are forced to do it in secret away from authorities.
  • “The killings were alarming because they seemed to be targeting only female sex workers. In 2011 alone.634 sex workers were victims of sexual related violence and after losing six members in the same year, we had to do something from within”

It’s a rainy cold Friday evening; Kenya’s newest city Nakuru is welcoming the sunset as the Christmas festivities hit the peak.

On this particular night, the city’s streets are buzzing with activity as partygoers hope from one night club to another. Nakuru city is known for a vibrant nightlife that attracts revelers from far and wide.

28-year -old Grace Wanderi leads me to one busy club along Gusii road, a red-light street in Nakuru town. Grace has been a commercial sex worker for the past 10 years and she has agreed to grant me an interview for this story.

Inside the club, Grace grabs a bottle of beer and a packet of cigarettes. With a cigar stick in her mouth, we settle at a corner table and kick off the interview.

In November 2011, Grace, a then a newcomer in the commercial sex trade was attacked by two men who posed as potential clients.

“One of them approached me and we negotiated and agreed on the price. As we walked towards a lodging room, they attacked me using a beer bottle. They took my phone and the little money I had and left me bleeding on the ground,” she narrates with a bold smiley face.

Luckily for Grace, her colleague sex workers were at a nearby street and attracted by the loud screams, they rushed to rescue her.

“They took me to a back street clinic where I received first aid to stop the bleeding before being transferred to a government hospital for stitching,”

The attack left Grace with scars on her thighs, scars she says will remain a reminder of how risky her work is.

In her ten years of sex work, Grace has been attacked thrice, with one attack coming from two police officers who assaulted her inside a bar bathroom.

And just like Grace, so many sex workers have fallen victims of attacks from clients, security officers and the public. Sadly, some sex workers have lost lives due to sexual violence and attacks against them.

The Law

Commercial sex work remains outlawed under sections 153,154,155,156,157 and 183 of the Kenyan penal code and many who engage in it are forced to do it in secret away from authorities.

According to the UNAIDS data Kenya has an estimated 133,675 sex workers spread across the country.

Sex work in Kenya comes with a host of risk including sexual based violence, risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, arrests, unsafe abortions, and unwanted pregnancies and even death.

Majority of sex workers operate in busy areas in cities and town including bars, hotels, bus stages, markets, and residential areas.

Solution

In Nakuru city, the Smart Ladies, a local organisation bringing together sex workers had to come up with innovative ways of protecting their members from the danger of attacks.

Smart ladies Director Daisy Achieng says that perturbed by senseless and continued harassment of sex workers, the organisation had to come up with a way of monitoring the operations of their members with the aim of protecting them from work related harassment.

“The killings were alarming because they seemed to be targeting only female sex workers. In 2011 alone.634 sex workers were victims of sexual related violence and after losing six members in the same year, we had to do something from within”

“Our first step was to have a database of all the sex workers operating within Nakuru county and its environs. We developed a register of all members together with their contact details,” said Achieng.

The data base of 7,000 sex workers includes the name of the sex worker, area of operation, services offered, area of residence, phone number, and next of kin contacts

Achieng observes that the database and messaging system has made it easier for them to “mobilise help whenever one of them is under attack or in need”

After the data has been captured, a sex worker is issued with a special number for identification. The number is put into use anytime a sex worker feels threatened or attacked while at work.

Emily Nekesa, Smart Ladies Deputy Director notes that the system has helped them save a good number of sex workers who were in distress.

“We have rescued many who were in distress, those who had been locked up in houses due to rent arrears, those abandoned in hotels and bars by clients, those who were being held hostage and even those who had procured unsafe abortions and were staring at death, “said Nekesa.

“In case of a security situation, one is required to send a short message to a toll-free number starting with their personal code and state the nature of the risk, location, their dress code, and a brief description of their client or the person posing the threat,”

After the information has been received, the organization swings into action by mobilizing its members to act

“Whenever an alarm is raised, an alert is sent to members in that area who mobilize resources and manpower to rescue one of their own” equipped Achieng.

Impact

In 2017, Peris Maina, was rescued from would-be kidnapers after she raised an alarm through the system.

“We were having drinks in a bar, and I overheard a conversation between my client and his colleague. I suspected something bad was about to happen and I raised the alarm. They had spiked my drink without my knowledge,” said Maina.

Luckily for her, a rescue team stepped in just as her kidnappers were whisking her into their waiting car. She was rescued before being taken to hospital.

The sex workers messaging system also sends periodic updates to members on the possible dangers and threats within their areas of operations at different times.

When the situation requires, the lobby involves police officers in the rescue missions.

Through the system, the organisation has also been able to trace relatives of sex workers who get injured or those who die in the line of duty.

Brenda Wanjiru has been in the sex work industry for the last 10 years. She notes that with the security update system, she feels safer at work than before.

“Initially we had nowhere to run to or to report when attacked because police officers never believed our stories of being attacked. Now with the alert system, I’m always assured of instant backup whenever things go wrong,” she said.

Achieng adds since the introduction of the security alert system, attacks targeting sex workers have drastically dropped and sex workers have become more vigilant and alert in detecting possible situations that turn out to be risky for them.

“Before we adopted the alarm raising system, the number of attacks towards sex workers was so high. In a year we would record at least 500 attacks. But since 2013, the system has made us more vigilant and this has seen a huge reduction in the number of attacks, with 2020 having recorded only 5 attacks,” concludes Achieng.

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