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Silenced by Law

Silenced by law

The impact of the legal environment on health, safety and protection in relation to sex work related violence in Kenya.

Click to download The impact of the legal environment on health, safety and protection in relation to sex work related violence in Kenya.

Generally, the legal environment in Kenya is comprised of laws and policies that provide a robust supportive framework to address sexual and gender based violence. However, the existence of criminal provisions hinders effectiveness of interventions particularly for key populations such as sex workers. Globally, there is growing body of evidence that suggests that decriminalization and elimination of violence against sex workers would have a great effect on the course of HIV epidemics by averting new HIV infections. Laws that criminalize prostitution create an environment in which violence against sex workers by police, clients and others is silently accepted or even considered justified. This leaves them less likely to be protected from violence. Criminal provisions relating to sex work assert the general social contempt toward sex workers. As a result sex workers continue to suffer violence despite a robust Constitutional framework that guarantees rights for all. Various recommendations have been made to review laws, policies and practices that undermine protection and respect for human rights. However, most law makers are yet to fully appreciate that criminalization affects the overall wellbeing of sex workers. Law makers also remain largely ignorant on the consequences that additional punitive legislations will have.


KESWA through this study sought to investigate and document the impact of the legal environment on sex work related violence in Kenya with a focus on health, safety and protection of sex workers. This study seeks to influence review of the legal environment with the aim of addressing vulnerability of sex workers and enhancing their protection from violence. It is hoped that the evidence generated through this communityled process will contribute significantly to informed debate, decision making and actions in favour of positive law reform. The study was successfully implemented in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Busia and Nakuru with 429 respondents reached. In depth interviews were also done with 13 sex workers, 5 focus groups undertaken, and 15 key informants interviewed. Overall the findings of this research confirm that penal provisions cause sex workers in Kenya to feel unsafe reporting violent crimes and other abuses against them. Criminalization has contributed to negative perceptions that increase the vulnerability of sex workers to violence. Except where specialized programs exist, sex workers rarely benefit from supportive legal provisions and general mechanisms that address violence. Criminalization makes sex workers less safe by preventing them from securing police protection and enabling perpetrators to take advantage of their vulnerability and get away with acts of violence against them. Therefore, a proper mechanism to address violence against sex workers must be alive to the challenges posed by the legal environment.

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