Prostitution in Rwanda increasingly perilous

Apr 14th, 2014 at 15:01 | By | Category: News

Female sex workers in Rwanda are continuously harassed and abused by their clients and local authorities. As prostitution is illegal in the country, the women are working under severe precarious conditions with no security and receive zero tolerance from their communities.

Image prostitutionABC Radio National has documented several personal testimonies of these women and their entouragein the radio program 360 Documentaries last month. Their findings are gruesome as they elaborately depict the ongoing killings and humiliations of sex workers in the capital Kigali.

A few months after 18 Kigali prostitutes were killed in a 2-month period mid 2012, the documentary reports on another murder in February 2013.  One woman recalls how her friend J., who had become aprostitute in order to support her family, was found dead in her house after having sex with a client. Her body was naked, mutilated and bloodied.

‘’On that day I saw her enter into her house with two men. One came out to talk to me and the other one stayed inside. The man who was outside told another girl that J. was having sex inside the house and not to disturb her. Later, when the second one had also gone, my daughter went inside to look for J.. She pulled away the curtain and saw her lifeless body’’, the friend told Radio National.

It is not yet clear who killed the prostitutes in the capital, although one man is said to have been arrested shortly after. A trial is still awaiting. As for J.’s murderer, one may never know. C., another sex worker, testifies on how she and her colleague were kidnapped and raped. Her colleague was taken to anotherroom and C. did not know what happened to her. Her body appeared a few days later covered in banana leaves. After C. was raped, she was forced to drink petrol and nearly strangled to death. An old woman found her bare-naked the day after on the side of the road. A third prostitute is said to have beenfatally strangled by a client with a mosquito net. Her killer left a note saying: ‘’ I killed this prostitute because she stole my 50 000 Rwandan francs and this should be a lesson to others’’.

Not only do the women fear a real threat of death with their occupation, but they are also constantly faced with violence and harassment from their clients who refuse to pay them after sex or to use a condom. One witness says the refusal of using protection sometimes leads to pregnancies. The sex workers then find themselves with an additional responsibility of taking care of a child. The financial needs of a child with a predominantly unknownfather then provide another incentive to stay in prostitution.

The prostitutes in Kigali also speak out on the circumstances that have forced them into the world of prostitution. ‘’Nobody chooses to be a prostitute (..) We are always praying to God for a change to prostitution so we can get out’’, one woman cries. ‘’ A lot of women were killed in the genocide (..) today, women are being killed for being prostitutes. People ignore that many of us are orphans of the genocide and are in charge of caring of our families’’, she states.

Moreover, police officers and patrolmen are said to assault the women physically on multiple occasions. When the sex workers plead their cases to the grass root courts or local police, they are ignored. In addition, local authority officers have in some cases forced the prostitutes into having sex with them in their offices or on the street in order to avoid arrest. In other cases, the officers demand for money.

Rwanda’s underground sex scene has been unexposed for a long period of time. As in many countries where prostitution is prohibited by law, sex workersare excluded from society and considered individuals of high immorality who deserve whatever comes to them.

However, social stigmatization is only one part of the difficulties. The Rwanda Behavioural and Biological Surveillance Survey from 2010 showed the overall prevalence of HIV in female prostitutes to be as high as 51 percent. Next to unwanted pregnancies, other sexually transmitted diseases and infections are bound to show an increase in this population. The associated health risks in combination with the lack of social protection and stigmata create an extremelyvulnerable group that is increasingly victimized by its circumstances and bystanders in Kigali.

Jane Nishimwe


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