In many African states, their activities are frowned upon with the police undertaking occasional swoops at their operational bases, but it does appear the police and ladies of the night in Kenya’s Nakuru suburb have a cordial relationship.
On December 17, which is marked annually as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, commercial sex workers opted to scrub the floors at Central and Bondeni police stations in addition to donating beddings for cells to mark the day.
Rallying under the ‘Smart Ladies’ umbrella body, over 200 women in the business under the command of Daisy Achieng also handed over seedlings for flowers to the local Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) Elena Kabukuru to help with regeneration efforts.
Other members also planted trees at the station, pruned overgrown vegetation in a move which positively surprised the officers and observers.
Ms. Achieng shed light on what motivated them to donate items including mattresses, buckets, water tanks and brooms.
“We decided to clean the two police stations because we rush here whenever we have our right violated in our line of duty. The police have played a big role in ensuring we operate smoothly irrespective of challenges we face. We believe we are part of the society who should ensure the implementation of police reforms. The bedding and items we have bought might be so little, but we appreciate what role police plays.”
Rape, economic violation, intimidation and harassment by the public, clients and the police are some of the dangers they face during the course of their work, the sex workers stated, with group leader Achieng, noting “there are times sex workers book a room, but the client turns against them, for instance, they are beaten and raped too.”
A night lady was found dead at Kanu Street, with eyes gouged out, breast and genital missing with several others mysteriously killed in hotel rooms. Following the deaths, sex workers went on a protest march demanding police intervention.
In 2015, 15 ladies of the night in Nakuru town were murdered in their line of duty. Two suspects linked to the brutal attack were arrested and charged at Nakuru law court.
“We have a coherent relationship with the police, for instance whenever we are assaulted, we report to the police and victims are arrested and charged,” Achieng said.
There are about 800 sex workers operating within Nakuru’s CBD, 5,000 within Nakuru town and about 15,000 in the county, reports the standardmedia.co.ke.
From October 2018 to November 2019, at least 2,750 cases on violation of sex workers was reported with the Smart Ladies’ leader submitting “this year, we have about seven cases of assault reported, some of which are ongoing at the court, while others were solved through police medication.”
Since stigma remains, members of Smart Ladies have been trained on paralegal rights while working closely with other organizations to empower sex workers with knowledge on their rights and legal affairs. The women now are able to report violation and harassment without fear while advocacy to decriminalize sex work continues.
For the women engaged in the business, it’s proven to be lucrative helping get them places to lay their heads, feed their children, educate them to the tertiary school level as well as cater to their other needs.
Timona, 42, said though sex work is demonized by the society, she has been able to educate her six children after joining the business.
“I have paid university fees for my two children who have completed their studies, while others are accessing quality education through earning I make,” she said. Before becoming a sex worker, she said she was a waiter in one of the clubs within Nakuru, but was earning little money that could not pay her bills.
This year’s International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers theme was ‘communities make the difference.’