Commercial Sex in Sierra Leone (Musu’s harrowing tale)
Musu is a 27-year-old that resides in the central part of Freetown. She has lost both parents and is the caregiver of her 7 years old brother. Musu has no standard education and no trained skills. What she does is sell sex to survive and keep her brother in school.
Every day at 6pm, Musu will do her make-up, wear a raunchy outfit which will make her standout. Garrison Street is Musu’s business point where she charges based on what her clients want. On a good day, she will make Le 500.000, other days not even a quarter. She will return home at about 5 or 6a.m. and go to bed for approximately 10 hours; and his brother knows he should not disturb her sleep.
In her area, Musu is known to be a “raray gal” (prostitute), and always at the receiving end of discrimination and snide comments. Yet she never loses her cool, very respectful and warm towards others which is a bit strange, considering the stereotype that surrounds her kind; loud, rude. She is not the typical ‘chanchko’.
One night, an unfortunate event took place which, though common among people in her line of work, had not been experienced by Musu before – a Police raid. She and 4 others were caught and dragged to the station, where they were kept for the night and their monies and phones taken away from them. The officers in duty demanded sex as the only condition for release. He four colleagues easily gave in but Musu was reluctant. The police officer forced himself on her. Though she fought him off, she was no match for him so she surrendered and succumbed to his vileness as he violated her body. In that moment, Musu was mad at herself for not being strong enough; mad at civil society organizations whose words are louder than their actions and particularly mad at the Government for not doing enough to protect women and girls irrespective of their line of work or business. Indeed, Musu was mad at the world.
At dawn, looking all dishevelled, they got released. At home, Musu took her brother from the neighbour whose house he sleeps over and was shocked to see all the bruises on her face but didn’t say anything. She then got her brother readied for school, had her bath, ate, took some painkillers and slept. It was when she woke up some hours later that it then dawned on her. She cried and cried and cried till she couldn’t any more. She thought of reporting the matter to the police, but decided not to because she knew they will never investigate a fellow officer; the matter will be dead on arrival. She contemplated on talking to civil society organizations, again, decided against it. She thought about taking her case against the government only to realize that would be impossible reason being, commercial sex work is illegal in Sierra Leone, thereby bringing her to a final decision of not pursuing a course of action
After a month of recuperating, Musu went back to work like nothing happened. However, she knew she will forever be traumatized by that sad event.
There are many Musus going through this on a daily basis and do not get the justice they deserve just because the law goes against them. I think Sierra Leone can pluck a leaf from Senegal where commercial sex is legal and strictly regulated. Women, 21 years old and above, who wish to engage in it can enrol into the institution which the Government setup, as health care service, monitored and supervised, with their personal details registered with the institution or police.
Also, instead of selling or advertising sex in the streets where underage boys and girls can be exposed to, a red-light district is an option which can strictly be an area for pleasure. This does not only protect the lives of women but also contribute to the economy as they will be paying taxes.
Legalizing commercial sex can also prevent or reduce the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases from not only sex workers but also from men who acquire the virus during unprotected commercial sex and transmit it to a non sex worker.
Yes, legalizing commercial sex goes against moral principles and ethics but considering the abuse and violence these women encounter, what is more paramount? Right to life that is a key constitutional right or morals?
WOMEN’s PAGE: With Fatmata Sesay
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