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Drug Use, Gender-Based Violence, Sex Work and (Il)Legality: Intersecting Vulnerabilities among Women who use Drugs.

Otanga, H, Jeneby, F, Handulle, M, Busz, M, Sumnall, H and Van Hout, M (2023) Drug Use, Gender-Based Violence, Sex Work and (Il)Legality: Intersecting Vulnerabilities among Women who use Drugs. Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Journal, 1 (1). pp. 35-44.

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The legal ambiguity surrounding sex work in Kenya makes it an operational grey area, more so for women who use drugs (WWUD) who are a “hidden population”. While the law does not criminalize prostitution, living off the proceeds of prostitution, loitering in public spaces and soliciting or importuning for immoral purposes attract legal sanction. This ambiguity encourages violations among WWUD doing sex work on streets, alleys or in drug dens (maeneo). The objectives were to assess the prevalence and lived experiences of gender-based violence among WWUD; and factors that protect and perpetuate gender-based violence among WWUD. This was a qualitative phenomenological study using focus group discussions (FGD) and in-depth interviews (IDI) was conducted in Mombasa and Kilifi counties among a convenient sample of 43 respondents (36 WWUD and seven key informants). Findings show that 75% of WWUD engaged in sex work in alleys, empty grounds and bushes at night to finance drug use, meet basic needs and as a way to keep intimate partners away from petty crime to finance drug use. Sexual violence was majorly perpetrated by non-drug users and included unwanted touch, deliberate tearing of condoms during sex, forced sex, uncomfortable sexual positions and demands for anal sex and getting paid less money or nothing for sex work. Sex workers also suffered physical, psychological and verbal abuse from clients, law enforcement officers and intimate partners. These include taunts/guilt tripping, stigma, strangulation, threats and robbery. Violations were rarely reported due to self- and societal stigma, economic vulnerability, fear of and perceptions of police as unhelpful and uninterested and lack of witnesses. WWUD in sex work also suffer discrimination in other “formal” work. Findings show that WWUD doing sex work have neither legitimate nor illegitimate means to survive. For resolution of resultant anomie, we recommend legal advocacy and law enforcement protections for WWUD in sex work; economic empowerment through training and seed funds for small and medium sized enterprises; and social support for WWUD to deal with stigma, and social and self-rejection.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Divisions: Psychology (from Sep 2019)
Public Health Institute
Publisher: Kenyatta University
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2023 14:08
Last Modified: 04 Dec 2023 14:15
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/22006
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