Rape of undocumented sex workers going unreported in Botswana

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Mosidi Mokaeya and Tulani Ngwenya

Crimes against undocumented sex workers are going unreported, non-governmental organisation Sisonke Botswana Organisation (SBO) has said.

This is because most of the sex workers fear that once they report the crimes to the authorities, they would immediately be deported.

An estimated 200 migrant sex workers live in Gaborone and SBO says at least 10 of them have reported to have been raped by locals while some said they have been gang raped.

The perpetrators approach the victims pretending to be well meaning clients.

The cries for help came to SBO between January and November 2020.

“The women told us they often get raped. They also encounter a lot of economic abuse; this is where the client refuses to pay after the sex workers have rendered the service,” SBO spokesperson Mandla Pule told Newsworth in a recent interview.

“The sex workers have also reported enduring physical abuse from their clients resulting visible bruises.”

A snap survey revealed that the women are targeted because they are migrants who do not have anywhere to report.

The sex workers lamented that the local justice system never gives them recourse ad they are often victimised whenever they report being raped.

At the end of the day, they have to endure repeated abuse in some instances at the hand of gangs. Some have also reported being lured by some men with jobs as housekeepers only to be made sex slaves at the end without any payment.

Some victims told this publication on conditions of anonymity that the perpetrators are often ordinary looking men who pose as clients who then transport them to different locations and turn them into sex slaves.

“It is difficult to hard to differentiate at face value as clients always appear to be nice. The monster comes out when we enter their homes or hotel rooms,” said one Bridget Dube (not her real name).

Pule said they work closely with undocumented sex workers, some of them from Zimbabwe.

“Covid-19 brought us even closer as they depend on us for food and other basic necessities especially during lockdown periods. We listen to the stories of how they get raped all the time. They are afraid of deportation, so they rarely report and unfortunately, we cannot force them to do so. They depend on us for counselling services. It is also not easy for them to access health care services but we are working closely with Ministry of Health to make it easier for them. Thankfully, the ministry continues to sensitise its healthcare workers to treat them better, positive results are slowly starting to show although it’s not enough yet,” said Pule.

The helpless but seemingly strong sex workers said they felt extremely vulnerable. Unfortunately, their chances of reporting as victims of such violations are minimal as they fear being deported. The money they get from their few honest customers helps them take care of their families, which is better than returning home where opportunities are few. In the end, they just push the traumas of rape to the back of their minds and soldier on.

Multiple efforts to get a comment from the Botswana Police Public Relations Office were fruitless.

Precious Moyo (not her real name) could not hold back her tears as she narrated her experiences. She said they are targeted because the perpetrators know that they cannot report. She has been living in Gaborone without documentation for the past 1 years and says it has been a harrowing experience but says she has nowhere to turn to.

Since she is an undocumented, she is worried that once she reports to the authorities then she would be deported.

“The rapists target us because they know we can never report them,” she said.

“What is going to happen to my family if I report the rapes to the police? The minute I get deported my children will lose their livelihood,” she said.

She said the bread-and-butter issues that keep undocumented migrant sex workers on the harsh streets of Gaborone far outweigh the pain that might otherwise lead a local sex worker to the police, and perhaps to ultimately bringing the rapist to book.

Moyo recounted the many times her clients have led her into gang rapes.

“At one time, a man led me to a group of 12 friends in White City, they raped me one by one and kicked me out of the yard at 2am,” she said.

Now 34, Moyo arrived in Gaborone at 20 but she vows she will stay and work for her family.

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