A new documentary film, Kolonko, about the experiences of sex workers in Sierra Leone, highlights the sexual, physical, and verbal abuse they endure on a daily basis at the hands of their clients and the police. In interviews with 18 women, they make a plea to the government, the police, and the public: to accept them as citizens who have rights – over their bodies and to be free from violence. (‘Kolonko’ is the Krio-language term for a sex worker and its derogatory nature reflects the social and economic marginalisation sex workers face.)
An article in today’s Guardian published to coincide with The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, outlines how the filmmakers are hoping to educate the public and change behaviour around the treatment of sexworkers.
‘Sex work is illegal in Sierra Leone, making it difficult to challenge the way the legal system treats those who rely on it for a living. The lack of protection from police means sex workers distrust the law and find it difficult to report crimes against them.
‘Julie Sesay, programme manager at AdvocAid, which provides free legal representation and support to vulnerable women, says: “Despite prostitution being illegal, the inspector-general of Sierra Leone police has told us that in all his time with the force he has never heard of a women nor a client who has been prosecuted for sex work.
‘“It’s always other types of offences that women are arrested for. And we know of no instances where men – either involved in the trade or those who pay for sex – have been arrested.”
‘She said the treatment of sex workers by police briefly improved after Kolonko was screened in Freetown last year.’
AdvocAid is hoping that the film’s international platform will help it to push for legal reforms and pressurise the police into changing their behaviour.
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AWID is an international feminist membership organisation committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. It has 30 years of experience and a global network of thousands of members dedicated to building collective power to advance women’s rights and gender equality worldwide.The women’s rights and gender equality in focus series of the Global development section launched in February 2014 to provide a specific focus on the pressing issues affecting women, girls and transgender people around the world, and the critical work being carried out by women’s rights movements.