Alarm over rising cases of rape of sex workers by police in DR Congo

Sex worker-led groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo have raised concerns rampant rape of sex workers by police and military officers.

The Congolese Alliance for Human Rights (ACODHU-TS) and UMANDE, which are both sex worker-led collectives say the violence has been on the rise since 2018 when the government launched an operation called Ujana to apparently ‘rid the country of immorality’.

In a Shadow Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, submitted in July 2019, the collective says Sex workers are constantly subjected to violence perpetrated by men in uniform who are sworn agents of the State. 

The incidences have been on the rise since September last year, when authorities launched s UJANA (Juvenile Delinquency Close to Prostitution) and to prevent ‘moral decay’ within the capital, which sources say include mode of dressing.

UJANA is supposedly to keep minors away from bars, clubs, hotels or any other entertainment joints.

However, activists say police have been using this as an excuse to harass and arbitrarily arrest sex workers for as flimsy reasons as wearing short dresses.

According to ACODHU-TS, police have been violently arresting sex workers and undressing women allegedly in short skirts.

“In November 2018, more than 300 female sex  workers  were  abused, accosted and arrested by order of Provincial Government of Kinshasa by police in the  course  of an  operation  called  “UJANA”, which

 has  now  been expanded  to all  provinces. The police as well as 

security service agents, arbitrarily arrest women in public spaces, especially at night in dance clubs, pubs and hotels and check if they are wearing an underwear. In Bukavu, 53 sex workers have been violently arrested and humiliated for no reason,” says the Report in part.

The report also notes that the country’s law has been misused to violate female sex workers.

Selling sex in DRC is not criminalised, however, operating a brothel or soliciting for sex is, forced prostitution, sexual harassment and sexual slavery.

“By looking at what is penalised under Congolese law, we do not understand why there

are so many arbitrary arrests and so much violence against sex workers by state forces responsible for protection,” says the Report.

Complaints presented by female sex workers to the police and the prosecution are not considered or respected. The daily violence that sex workers face is regarded by the police and even security forces as an ‘occupational’ hazard.

The report has also raised concerns over discrimination by human rights organisations defending female sex workers’ human rights.

“They believe that a dignified woman cannot be a sex worker, the human rights initiatives they lead are specific to women but do not include sex workers, their activities do not focus on promoting the rights of sex workers and even when activities focus on sex workers, these activities are limited to pushing them to ‘exit’ sex work,” says the Report.

Read the full report here: https://aswaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/DR-CONGO-SHADOW-REPORT_2019-7.pdf

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