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Tana River prostitutes go digital via Whatsapp groups

Commercial sex workers in Tana River say they are yet to recover from the effects of Covid-19 despite the lifting of regulations by the government.

This, some of them say, has forced them to look for other means of sustaining their trade.

Thus, they have elected to digitize their business, in this case through the formation of WhatsApp groups led by various veterans in the business.

Anne Makau,47, has been in the business for 19years and currently chairs the group on various platforms.

“Covid-19 showed us hell, some of us abandoned the business and went back upcountry, some wrecked homes and stole husbands to survive that hard time,” she explains.

Amid the tough times, Ms. Makau, a mother of two, says that she had to think outside the box to survive as the trade suffered heavy punches from Covid-19.

The community had started to rebel against the trade and those known to be commercial sex workers became a target to harm by society.

“We lost two girls in Garsen and Bura towns, they were beaten by unknown people and later succumbed to injuries while receiving treatment in Malindi and Mombasa respectively,” she adds.

Ms Makau notes that they were forced into forming a group of the veterans where they deliberated on other means to survive as the streets were proving insecure for the girls.

Each was tasked to call for a meeting with the girls and brainstorm on the idea of leaving the streets to meet clients online.

“Most of the clients know us and contact us for the girls, we know the girls better, we know those that are ailing and are in our counsel and care, therefore if someone comes without consulting, they have themselves to blame, these streets are not all safe,” she says.

The team came up with a WhatsApp group in December, where all girls are members at a fee of Sh500 and a monthly contribution of Sh300 that goes into savings for other expenses.

According to Ms Makau, clients contact the leaders who then assign the girls to the client, to serve at home or provide company in hotels.

The client is also informed of the varying cost for services among other requirements.

“Some clients don’t want to use protection, in that case, we provide our ladies with test kits that have been made available to us for free by various organizations interested in our welfare,” she says.

Whereas some clients may prefer one partner, Ms Makau notes that sometimes the client is provided with other options to strike a balance in the trade and ensure everyone takes something home.

This has rendered the streets empty, as the ladies of the night don’t have to pause in the cold nights for clients.

“It is safer for us, I don’t get to engage anyone in the streets as we fight for a client, sometimes the clients may want you at day,” says Caroline Litei.

According to Ms Litei, the trade is better compared to times before Covid-19 as nobody knows what she does for a living.

The current model of business has created a safe room for all commercial sex workers, a family as well as drawn a better growth path.

“From the Sh300 we contribute that goes to the Sacco as a lump sum, we can borrow money to start a business, we all want to leave this trade one day and settle in families like the rest of us,” she says.

Prostitution is illegal in Kenya.