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Study of violence against Sex workers

A report on Study of Violence against Sex Workers in Nairobi, Kenya

Click to download A report on Study of Violence against Sex Workers in Nairobi, Kenya

Sex workers experience excessive physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence at work, police cells, at their homes, in public and neighbourhoods. As they experience such tremendous violence, they are denied of their fundamental human rights including the right to equal protection under the law; to protection from torture and from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This research as well as previous research demonstrates an increasingly familiar trend in which violence against sex workers predispose them to HIV infection and limits treatment effectiveness. Effective safeguarding of the human rights of male, female, and transgender sex workers including the prevention of violence requires an understanding of the interacting factors that impact on their safety. Previous studies exploring violence among sex workers has shown that sex workers experience violence from all sections of the community. This study adopted a research methodology that enabled the research team to examine the common trends in violence among sex workers. The research team issued consent forms to study participants, which they signed to signal their agreement to participate in the study. Participants were recruited using purposive and snowball sampling. Peer researchers used semi-structured, qualitative interviews to obtain data from sex workers. Research participants were matched to peer interviewers by gender. The interviews were conducted in the natural settings in English language and lasted between thirty to forty five minutes. The study revealed that sex worker participants experience violence in all aspects of their lives including while at work, in police cells and in their neighbourhoods and in their homes. All sex workers participants reported to have experienced one or more forms of violence in the hands of different perpetrators. Most sex workers reported experiencing violence in the context of their work. In addition, many reported having experienced multiple forms of violence, including rape, arbitrary arrest and detention, shaming in public. Violence experienced in sex work settings are perpetrated by members of law enforcement, clients, and third parties. Sex workers reported experiencing particular types of violence in work settings including sexual exploitation, extortion and harassment by members of law enforcement, and physical assault among others. Participants reported that members of law enforcement regularly extorted sex from them, and coerced into unpaid sex for freedom from arrest. Eight participants reported being raped but none sought justice for the crimes. Participants also reported experiencing violence from clients particularly by those posing as clients. Client violence included economic, emotional, physical and sexual violence, with participants often experiencing multiple forms of abuse at once. Violence by third parties was also reported by sex workers in the context of their work in brothels, bars, pubs, guest houses. Third parties committed all forms of violence but mostly economic violence. Participants reported experiencing specific forms of violence outside their work setting because of their work, such as violence and harassment by neighbours and the general public as well as discrimination and abuse in health settings.


This study documents a wide range of violent acts experienced by female, male and transgender sex workers in Kenya. The experiences of sex workers documented in this report describe the ways in which state agents and institutions such as county and national government law enforcement agents and the judiciary address, or fail to address, the violence concerns of sex workers. The study also describes experiences in which the police fail to act or are offenders. In addition, the study explores various laws and by – laws that prohibit sex work and activities related to sex work and essentially limiting opportunities for sex workers to seek redress whenever they experience. The study was commissioned to explore the alarming and widespread incidents of violence against sex workers. The study documents cases of arrests and cases of violence in the last two years (2014/2015) with the intent to show the magnitude of the problem, and use this up-to-date information to argue for decriminalization and to an end in harassment of sex workers. By exposing the arbitrary arrests, extortion and mistreatment of sex workers, the study sought to contribute, in the short to medium term, to a decrease in these abuses. Sex worker led organizations around the country already have experience meeting with the police and the city council to raise concerns about sex workers’ rights, and this report provide additional information which call for further sensitization of police officers and county government askaris. In the end, the results of this study provide more information to support the argument in favour of decriminalization of sex work. The study provided opportunities for research team to sensitize sex workers to the fact that the kind of violence experienced by them violates their human rights. This study focuses on female, male and transgender sex workers because the mandate of Kenya Sex Workers Alliance, the organisation that commissioned the research, is to champion and advocate for the health and human rights of feamale, male and transgender sex workers in the country.

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