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Dear Nation, no, sex work is not ‘career’

Read the following story and answer the questions that follow.

Sex work is work: Lessons from my 24 years in the trade, By Agatha Gichana, Gender Reporter, Nation Media Group (October 26, 2023)

Caroline Njoroge, 37, has been sex worker for the last 24 years. Popularly referred to as Esther in her profession because of her popularity, Caroline started her career at the age of 14 years after her mother, who also worked as a sex worker was allegedly killed by a client.

Today, she is the Deputy Coordinator of Kenya Sex Workers Alliance. She tells Nation.Africa how she joined the trade and what she wished she knew when she started the trade.

When my mother died, I had no one to turn to. I could not live with relatives, so I ran away from my rural home after my mother’s burial and came back to the streets,’’ she explains.

She says that she was a particularly vulnerable sex worker because of her age.

I was not able to advocate the use of condom during intercourse. When I was new, I could also not negotiate for competitive prices. I would be paid between Sh200 to Sh500 per client. This meant that I had to ‘service’ a lot of clients to make good money for the day.’’

However, with time, she realised that most men preferred young sex workers.

This is because teenage sex workers are easily exploited due to their naivety. I thought I was privileged because I got a lot of clients, but this only caused me to contract a lot of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) that kept recurring because I could not afford reproductive health care and did not stop working.’’

Caroline says at some point, she thought she was lucky because she was living an adult life as a child.

People get into sex work for different reasons, but at that young age, I could not assess what I needed. It reached a point where I think I was doing it for fun and not money,’’ she says.

As years went by, however, she started to learn that she was actually being violated.

I experienced a lot of physical and sexual violence. Some clients would slap and beat me and nobody would hold them to account. This is because many people see sex work as demeaning work. I also missed out on my childhood because when you are a sex worker, everybody assumes you are immoral,’’ says Caroline.

She was often arrested by Nairobi County police officers because of loitering with intent of soliciting for sex.

Sometimes, when business was bad, I would even prefer being arrested so that I could get a place to sleep and a meal, which was not guaranteed on the streets.’’

In early 2010, she met a not-for-profit organisation that taught her about her reproductive health rights and provided her with free health care and condoms.

I was very popular amongst the girls, so I was recruited as a peer-educator. I would ensure that any violence that occurred was reported. I was also mandated to ensure all girls were getting get free condoms, education and treatment,’’ she adds.

Looking back at her younger self, she wishes the government saw her for what she was; a girl child.

I wish the government implemented social welfare programs for all girls – those in the safety of their homes and schools, and those in their diversities,” she adds.

She explains that state support should be in the form of psychosocial support for girls living in the streets.

People assume that since you are engaging in sex, you already know about contraceptives but that is a wrong notion. I did know why condoms or contraceptives were important in my line of work.’’

As to why she is still a sex worker, Caroline simply says: “Sex work is work. I am not doing it because I am being exploited. It is a choice I have made. There are so many other things I would have done but this is the line of work I have chosen.’’

The end.

Question 1: Assuming that you are a parent or a guardian to a teenage girl, would you recommend this story for her as an excellent career guide?

Question 2: The angling of this story seems to suggest that sex work is a rewarding ‘career,’ as good a career as any other. What does this say to millions of girls in school or at home who read this story?

Question 3: Is this story, a) a news feature or b) advertorial for sex work? What value does it add to our society that looks up to the media as guardians of our national values?

Question 4: “Caroline started her career at the age of 14 years” Ignoring the ‘career’ bit; would you agree that this line ought to read: “Caroline started being defiled/sexually abused at 14?” Would you consider the writer and editor that lets the idea of a 14-year-old girl “starting a career at sex” as right pass as an ethical, right-thinking fellow?

Question 5: In the context of this story, who or what exactly is a ‘gender reporter?” Is it A) someone with an agenda or B) Someone used to sell an agenda B) Someone who has no idea what gender means, D) All the above?

Disclaimer: We, the Council of Mediascape Examiners and adjudicators (CoMEA), are not moral cops and, therefore, no one is under threat of arrest here.

1 thought on “Dear Nation, no, sex work is not ‘career’”

  1. Quite insightful, the article by the named daily appears to exalt child labour if not career in sex, and at the same time rubber stamp sex as a profession in all ages of human life. It is about time we as scribes climbed down from chest thumping headlines to basics where, every aspect of reporting is aligned with the law of the land and ethics that guide our industry as journalists…

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