Bar Hostess Support and Empowerment Program (BHSEP), Kenya

The Nairobi, Kenya based Bar Hostess Support and Empowerment Program (BHSEP) works to ensure that sex workers and bar hostesses have access to quality health services and justice. The group supports sex workers’ efforts to claim their rights and influence public policy.

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CREAW and BHSEP Document Rights Abuses in Kenya

The Center For Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) and the Bar Hostess Support and Empowerment Program (BHSEP) are engaged in a multi-year collaboration to document police violence against sex workers in Kenya.

The project, being implemented in six townships around Nairobi, aims to collect evidence of the way police behave toward sex workers and to determine the prevalence of police harassment and intimidation of sex workers, police demands for bribes and sexual favors, and police use of unlawful arrest and detention. This documentation will be used as the basis for advocacy and strategic litigation to improve rights protection and reduce violence against sex workers.

The project has been developed to include significant outreach to, and training of, sex workers with the goal of empowering members of the sex worker community to become increasingly vigilant in defense of their rights, better organized, and better able to document abuses committed against them.

CREAW and BHSEP have already trained 18 sex workers as paralegals who will conduct outreach to empower fellow sex workers to defend against and document abuses by law enforcement and will provide legal aid to those who have experienced rights violations. A series of paralegal-led forums will inform sex workers about protections guaranteed by the Constitution and the Sexual Offences Act of 2006, as well as specific local by-laws relevant to them.

An innovative element of the project has been the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to document and respond to human rights abuses. CREAW and BHSEP are working with the Social Development Network (SODNET) to use computer and mobile phone technology that will allow them to send mass text messages to the sex worker community, and allow sex workers to report the violations they experience immediately. (See, Kenya Groups Use Innovative Tools to Document Police Abuse)

The project also communicates to police and other state authorities the expectations and policing needs of the sex worker community and encourages police to meet those needs.

Drawing on the successes that the group Keeping Alive Societies’ Hope (KASH) has had with its work to increase police awareness of the needs of sex workers in Kisumu, the project partners are incorporating a similar model of police peer training into their project. CREAW and BHSEP members conducted a site visit to KASH and have recruited police officers involved in the KASH project in Kisumu to facilitate workshops in their target townships to improve communication between sex workers and law enforcement officers. Six planned trainings will focus particularly on strengthening community policing.

The project aims to expand its work to include strategic litigation to tackle some of the by-laws police use to target sex workers, such as “loitering for the purpose of prostitution,” “importuning” for the purpose of prostitution and “indecent exposure.”  The project will identify cases that involve the violation of fundamental rights and that can make reference to constitutional guarantees. Work will be divided among partners, with CREAW taking on the preparatory legal research, identifying lead counsel, and filing suits, and BHESP and KASH undertaking the associated media advocacy and mobilization of support from sex worker networks.

Posted in Information and Communication Technologies.