School of Criminology

Sex workers in crisis

The COVID-19 outbreak and the policies put into place to manage the disease are creating severe, life-threatening challenges to marginalised communities around the world. Teela Sanders, Professor in Criminology, is exploring the impact of both the virus and its management on female sex workers in Kenya. This research is supported by a grant through the University’s QR Global Challenges Research Fund allocation (Research England).

Through Professor Sanders’ Nairobi-based partner organisation, the Bar Hostesses Empowerment and Support Project (BHESP), it has come to light that many of the Kenyan government’s restrictions designed to contain the outbreak are creating conditions that are adversely affecting the sex worker community. These measures include a night curfew, closure of all public spaces including bars and clubs, universities and shops. Health facilities have been drastically reduced and transport prices have been increased dramatically, reducing access to essential services. These changes, which were introduced without notice, has had an immediate and intense impact on sex workers which has led to greater exposure to danger and risk.

Professor Sanders is working to document and understand these changes as well as developing a practical tool for sex workers in Nairobi to deliver health care during the movement restrictions. Her project, which is supported by a grant through the University's QR Global Challenges Research Fund allocation through Research England, will record sex workers’ experiences, document local practitioners’ attempts to deliver services and will collate strategic policy responses.

Professor Sanders’ project will support the Bar Hostesses Empowerment and Support Project through the development of new policies, practices and service provision. She hopes to enable services to be delivered to sex workers in new and enhanced technological ways to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions whilst still providing a direct service. 

Women stood around a motor bike The project outcomes have included funding a motorbike scheme and training peers to be drivers, delivering crucial supplies to sex workers across the city. This has been an essential lifeline during curfews and mobility restrictions imposed by the government.

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