This evening I was privileged to have a conversation with one of my Facebook friends who is a reformed sex worker. We discussed several issues at length and when I asked her if I could share her sentiments. She agreed but requested anonymity, to which I agreed.
She said she has been one of my followers but had not found courage to interact with me or share her experience with me. That only lasted till this evening when she got the courage to share with me about her life. This is how the conversation went.
"Hi Kimutai, I hope you had a good day. Mine too was fine. I have been your follower for a while but I have not had the courage to talk nor share my story with you. I must begin by acknowledging your efforts in HIV advocacy and fight against stigma. What you are doing is commendable and many lives are touched. I would also wish to confess that I am one of the touched souls. I wish I had the courage as you, just to come out and teach people about HIV; I have tried but my heart is weak to take all the humiliation and embarrassment from the people around me as far as stigma is concerned.
"As I am talking to you, I am a reformed sex worker. I must tell you that I have passed a lot before, as and after sex work. I am the first born in a family of five and a bread winner for the entire family. I graduated with a diploma in Information Technology from one of the top universities in town. Life was tough but I managed to go through the ups and downs.
"I got a well wisher who assisted me to pay school fees, offered accommodation and in turn I assisted in house work as appreciation. Despite the assistance I got from her, her house became a growing hell, to the extent that I had to move out in my final year .
"I started sleeping with different men; tall vs short, drunkards vs sober, fat vs thin, etc. I used protection but I could not insist when it came to a better offer. I got money, saved my mother and turned from being a college graduate to being a sex worker."
"Life out there was not favourable; rent ,food and fare looked at my empty pockets. Since I was in school full time, I could not find time to work and I was later evicted from my room for defaulting on my rent. I had nothing nor somewhere to go and my final exam was still two months away.
"I was forced to seek refuge in my friends' rooms as I worked on my next course of action. My friends turned out to be unwelcoming so I kept moving from one room to the other. When I had gone almost all round, I changed my tactics. I would give in to any of my colleagues who approached me for a date, just for the sake of getting what to eat, where to sleep and waking up tomorrow for class.
"This went on for a while before I was branded a campus whore since I had slept with a good number of different men. I had to change my now obsolete technique and find a new 'market'. I could not stop attending classes since my fee was cleared and I could not go back home because my parents were swimming in complete poverty.
"I began going out on weekends. I used to go to different clubs in the name of looking for my week long package. After sleeping with different men for the sake of getting money for my upkeep, I met this man who asked me to move to his house since he had a family upcountry and he was lonely in his house.
"I accepted the offer without hesitating, not because I loved him but because I would get help. I stayed with him till I sat for my final paper, after which I packed my things and left.
"Life out there was a bit friendly this time because I was not going to school anymore. I could do all sorts of casual jobs to earn my livelihood and get something litlle for my family at home. After a month I realised I was pregnant and the person responsible for the pregnancy was the man I had lived with in my last days of school but I could not go back to him nor let him know since I never loved him at all.
"Quickly, I got an idea and I aborted since I could not stand the shame and the burden of raising a kid.
"After three months my mother fell ill and was admitted to hospital. There was no money to cater for her medication or food and I was the only person she could rely on. I had no option than to turn out to be a full time sex worker in order to get money to cater for her needs. I started sleeping with different men; tall vs short, drunkards vs sober, fat vs thin, etc. I used protection but I could not insist when it came to a better offer. I got money, saved my mother and turned from being a college graduate to being a sex worker.
"Abortions were part of my lifestyle, sex became a basic necessity and money was order of the day. I couldn't leave this life since I could tarmac and get no job; my family looked upon me for food, my siblings for fees. Two years later, I fell sick and was diagnosed with HIV and this became my turning point in life.
"All things turned against me and stories went out all over the brothel where I was that I was HIV-positive. My 'clients' turned away from me and my friends could no longer come close to me. I went through hell.
"Later I went back to hospital, started medication and found a friend who supported me to set up a business which is now growing. I rent a house on my own nowadays, eat food of my choice, pay fees to my siblings, help my family in general.
"I quitted sex work because of my health and did not wanted to spread the virus."
I have learnt the following from her story and that is why I asked for her permission to share her story.
1. Commercial sex workers do it not for pleasure but for livelihood.
2. They forego protection for a better offer
3. Desperation forces a person to be a commercial sex worker even if learned.
4. A sex worker can change and have a normal life.
5. Stigma is common in all styles of life.
6. Not all sex workers are evil, i.e. spread STIs and HIV.
7. Situations are the main cause of sex work.
I know this will create controversy but it is upon your view. My advocacy cuts across all styles of life, age, sexual orientation and religion.
#Stigmamustfall and #respectembraced.
#rehabilitation is better than #victimization.