Fall 2023 Sex Worker Advocate Interviews

Aseme Interview



Josephine Aseme is a sex worker advocate who resides in Port Harcourt, River State, Nigeria. Ms. Aseme works for AVAC, an international non-profit organization that aims to advance the development/delivery of HIV prevention options. To Ms. Aseme, sex work is work. It is like every other service based job and needs to be respected at the same level as other jobs. She is passionate about educating sex workers in Nigeria about HIV, thus accelerating access to HIV prevention methods in the greater community. In a 2022 research study, it is said that “early sexual debut, low educational attainment, history of rape and transactional and intergenerational sex have been associated with HIV infection among Nigerian adolescents, especially females” (Folayan et al 1, 2022). During our interview, Aseme explained how inaccessible treatment is for people in Nigeria, saying that if we want “to achieve zero HIV infection among sex […] all kind of infection or diseases among sex workers, that means we need to start looking at how we are going to achieve a conducive environment for sex work” (Aseme).

Similarly, Aseme discusses the difficulty that sex workers face when their work is hindered or otherwise put in jeopardy as a result of an HIV diagnosis: if they are not able to get better, they cannot do their work, and thus cannot make a living for themselves. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a medication that greatly reduces an individual’s chance of contracting HIV, is seemingly easy to come by in the United States, but not so much in her native Nigeria. In our interview, Ms. Aseme said of HIV diagnoses, “to achieve zero HIV infection among sex […and] all kind of infection or diseases among sex workers, that means we need to start looking at how we are going to achieve a conducive environment for sex work” (Aseme). Some of Aseme’s accomplishments include the training of almost 300 individuals in peer-to-peer PrEP education, resulting in an increase of over 23,000 PrEP referrals. She also worked with the Ministry of Health and Heartland Alliance to assure PrEP inclusion in Nigeria’s National HIV/AIDS Prevention Plan.

Aseme works for multiple awareness and action groups that are sponsored both nationally and by global funds such as the United States’ PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program. As the US government is slated to vote on whether or not to reauthorize PEPFAR soon, we see how something like this is so important to other countries and communities. Aseme provided us with a fascinating viewpoint on the importance of HIV awareness, challenging Americans to leave the realm of privilege—where we have relatively ‘easy’ access to things like PrEP and other drugs—and consider a life where none of these things are a given, and where the voices fighting are the ones who make the change.

While working in AVAC, one of the goals that Ms. Aseme is working towards includes encouraging sex workers to stand up for themselves in the face of violence, empowering other sex workers to do so in the process. This focus on increasing the vocality of sex workers helps educate other sex workers about their individual rights by learning how to interpret the law. Aseme explained to us that there is not a standardized way to apply laws in Nigeria. During our interview, Aseme mentioned the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, which “prohibits all forms of violence against persons in private and public life” and includes protection, adequate remedies, and justice for survivors (Ladan 2021). It is important for sex workers to know about this law because on frequent occurrences police raid businesses where sex workers sell their services. In these circumstances, the police arrest and often act violently towards the sex workers rather than the person in charge of the business. However, Aseme argued that if they know their rights to protection against violence, sex workers can stand up to the police or even a client. Additionally, AVAC provides services for sex workers to expand their skill sets. This serves the purpose of solving the financial issues that caused many sex workers to join the industry as well as aiding those who want to leave and pursue an alternative career. Ultimately, Aseme’s work with AVAC is based on a sustainability model where sex workers support each other.

The stigma surrounded by sex work, as highlighted by Aseme, manifests in various aspects of sex workers lives, particulary in the healthcare and legal system. In healthcare,  sex workers face judgment and discrimination from healthcare providers. For instance,  sex workers who seek medical help for an STI are faced with judgment and prejudiced treatment from doctors. Aseme explained that when you go to a facility “you see a healthcare provider coming to the clinic with her Bible or her church pamphlets to tell the sex worker, okay, I am a mom, I’m here to assess the services” (Aseme). Not only are sex workers marginalized in the healthcare system, but this marginalization also extends into the legal system. Sex workers often find themselves without redress when they are the victims of violence or sexual abuse. Their reports are frequently disregarded by the police according to Aseme. Aseme said that, “ if as a sex worker and i get violated and I report to the police and the police does not do anything about it” (Aseme).  This statement underlines the systemic neglect and stigma about sex workers. This systemic failure to provide protection to sex workers reinforces the cycle of stigma and discrimination they face. This highlights the issue that sex workers  are not only marginalized but also denied basic human rights and protection. This stigma creates barriers for sex workers to access essential services, leaving them even more vulnerable. Aseme’s insights call for a significant change in societal attitudes towards sex workers, advocating for respect and equality of sex workers, and urging an end to their marginalization.

In addition to her belief in the importance of removing the stigma around sex work, in order to acknowledge and treat sex workers as any other service based workers, she believes that the unification of sex workers within their communities is extremely important. When asked what the most rewarding part of her job was, Aseme responded:

“Let’s say the interesting part is seeing sex workers smile. Yeah, changing lives. Using my past experience as a sex worker to change the life of the younger ones, young sex workers, guiding them through. That’s the best part of my work. Yeah, that is just the best part of it…That’s the best part of my work that I’m really proud of” (Aseme 8:28-8:58).

She attributes a majority of sex worker community advocacy to social media and online advocacy, yet she encourages sex workers to use their online platforms to speak about their mental health. Ms. Aseme suggests that in her own community, the laws and stigma sourrounding sex work discourage sex workers to talk about their mental health, especially those living with HIV. She implies that when a sex worker feels unable to speak about their mental health, it not only puts them at mental and emotional risk, but also can put them at risk for physical or sexual violence form either romantic partners or from clients. Thus, she urges sex workers to speak up about their mental health, and encourages society and lawmakers to listen to their stories.

She also states that the importance of empathy is just as significant as building up sex workers within a community. She believes that if someone who is not directly involved in sex work is able to put themselves in a sex worker’s shoes and realize some of the pain and treatment that sex workers must endure, they can become sex worker advocates.

“You [must] sit with sex workers, learn more about them, understand their struggles, put yourself in their shoes. You will see the whole vision, the whole spirit drives you. The pain they feel, if you have to put yourself in their shoes, will motivate you to do something. So it’s about you accepting who they are. Empathy works there. You just have to have it…And you see yourself being a great advocate for sex work” (Aseme 18:50-19:06).

When a country’s laws do not treat sex workers as other service based workers, it takes a community of people sharing stories and listening to those who have been mistreated in order to see change in advocacy. She personally has shared her story as a sex worker and sex worker advocate to her family, and feels proud that through the sharing of her story, when one of her family members sees a sex worker being abused, they get involved and take immediate action in order to help the sex worker.

“So my family has tended to accept me, accept my job, [and] accept the sex workers community. [So] that even when they go outside and they see a sex worker being hunted by someone, they try as much as I can to rescue [them]. My brothers do support…[a]nd when they come home, they’ll tend to share the stories of how they met someone outside trying to abuse a sex worker…And I feel so excited seeing that happen” (Aseme 17:17-17:46).

Through empathy, we are able to see that sex work is just work, and that sex workers should feel both safe and comfortable in their places of work.


Aseme, Josephine. 2023. A Conversation on Sex Work Interview by Caroline LaMantia, Pierce Marra, and Abby Wagner.

Aseme, Josephine. n.d. “Josephine Aseme | AVAC.” Avac.org. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://avac.org/fellow/josephine-aseme/.

CDC. 2020. “About PrEP | PrEP | HIV Basics | HIV/AIDS | CDC.” Www.cdc.gov. November 3, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep/about-prep.html.

Folayan, Morenike O., Nadia A. Sam-Agudu, and Abigail Harrison. 2022. “Exploring the Why: Risk Factors for HIV and Barriers to Sexual and Reproductive Health Service Access among Adolescents in Nigeria.” BMC Health Services Research 22 (September). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-022-08551-9.

Ghebreyesus, Tedros. 2023. “PEPFAR’s a Beacon to the World.” World Health Organization. December 4, 2023. https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/pepfar-s-a-beacon-to-the-world#:~:text=And%20five%20countries%20from%20sub.

Ladan, M.T. 2021. An Overview of The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015. National Judicial Institute, Abuja





ABBY 0:34

Hi, how are you? I’m good. Yay. We’re so, so excited. That’s cool. How’s your day going? Sounds good! It has been hard but it’s good. That’s nice, good yeah it’s cold here so that’s, you know, alrighty Yeah



Nice to finally meet you


ABBY 1:10

as it says on my thing My name is Abby. I’m a first year here at Conn and I’m excited for this interview.



I’m Pierce, I’m just gonna, I guess we can introduce ourselves. I’m a sophomore. – And I’m Caroline. I’m also a sophomore. All right. Great.



Okay, yeah, so you already know my name. My name is Josephine as someone that I’ll say. I’m gonna say six. Welcome and should I say I was excellent. Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. So. Okay, yeah. And I am the founder of Greater Women Initiative for Health and Rights, an organization here in Nigeria. And that is it was that I didn’t know more about me. And the work that I do and how working has been like.



yeah. All right. That’s awesome. Okay, so I think we should just just want to start with some questions. We’ll just start. Okay. So where were you originally from and like, how did you, how did you kind of get your start? Are we gonna


ABBY 2:39

we have to start with a little script. Oh, we do.



Oh, that little Yeah. Oh, right. We have to say a little thing. I’m sorry. Abby, do you want to do that?


ABBY 2:53

Yeah, I can do it. Okay. So this is kind of the official start of the interview. So first, we would like to thank you for taking time out of your day to meet with us. Our names are Abby, Pierce, and Caroline. We have a fourth member. I’m not sure if he’s going to join us today or not. And we’re students and Professor Rotramel from the sex work class at Connecticut College. Mr. John Meade Jr. is an alumni of the college and is an expert consultant for our class. We would like to thank you. We would like to talk to you about your experiences as a sex worker advocate. In particular, we are interested in the opportunities and challenges of working to improve the status of sex workers. This interview should take about 30 to 40 minutes. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Please contact Mr. Meade or Professor Rotramel. If you have any questions about the honorarium that is provided and gratitude for you’re speaking with us today. We would like to record the interview if that’s okay with you, because it will allow us to focus on your voice and it will allow us to focus and then host your interview and related materials on our courses open education resource website. May we record the audio of this interview today? Is that okay if we record the audio today?



It is fine. Okay.


ABBY 4:32

Yes, we can hear you now. Sorry. So you said we could record today? Yeah,



definitely you can.


ABBY 4:41

Okay. Okay, Do you mind if we also record the video of your interview? I know you don’t have your camera on but it could still be helpful for us. If you would like us to cover – I guess you can see my face. So this is fine.


ABBY 5:08

Okay, great. Thank you. Welcome. Okay. And do you prefer that we use a pseudonym or fake name for you? Or would you like us to use your real name?



any name you can use? My real name is fine.


ABBY 5:23



ABBY 5:26

And before we post anything online, we will ask for you to review the interview, the transcript and the materials that we have created to ensure that you approve and are interested in making any edits that you deem appropriate. Okay, is this alright with you?



Nice, fine.


ABBY 5:43

Okay, and do you have any questions?



None for now. Okay,


ABBY 5:53

and please know that you can choose not to answer or talk about anything that you don’t want to discuss. And you can choose to end the interview at any time. So okay. And if you have any questions to ask throughout the interview, please let us know. All right. I’m gonna record, And can we begin the interview now?



Okay. Okay.



All righty. Thank you so much for so we’re so excited to talk to you. All right. So I’ll start with some of these little warm up questions. So the first one, where are you originally from? And yeah,



okay. I live in River State. In Nigeria. Yeah. South, side south side of Nigeria. Yeah.



Okay. Awesome. Thank you. Man. Where do you live now and if you moved, what brought you to the new location?



Okay, currently I live in Port Harcourt. And coming to Port Harcourt is more like starting off a new life. Yeah. Living a life that is kind of a way from where I do where I was doing my sex luck.



But then did you do that on purpose do you think to start advocating more and like getting liters for your job and stuff?



Yeah, in terms of my job, or my relocation, it’s more like, I came to Port Harcourt to live another life and also to like, make sure that I use the platform. It’s in River State. That’s what I got to be the voice of those that I wanted to because it’s important that it all seems like it’s part of the urban side. Where a lot of developmental work is ongoing. We have a lot of stakeholders that we need to talk to. And that was where I found myself in the state. So basically, it was just for me to live a life that is free from where I do my sex work.



Yeah. Okay. That’s awesome. Thank you. Um, and then, before we move on to the next section, we’d like to ask you to describe a typical day in your life. You know, what does it look like in the morning? What does it look like throughout to the night what do you what do you do usually every day what is your other than because obviously, we’ll ask you some questions about like your job and what you do, but just like what what’s your life look like? Kind of on a regular day to day now



Oh, like when I was more into sex work?



Like, that’s up to you but if you want to answer both you could, I mean, we’ll probably get to maybe like your life in the past, but I think maybe just right now.



Okay. A regular day. Now since we’ve been very busy, a very busy work like waking up in the morning, trying to attend to the office, what is happening? What is it like to have a meeting and also take care of my baby because I have a baby now.



So I heard the baby, I was wondering.



Oh, at the same time there are benefits when I’m working from home. I tend to my baby and also, I tend to my meetings online. If I have proposals that I’m running out. I had to take care of him for pauses, my team. Yeah, mostly I was working basically when my baby’s asleep. Or my baby’s asleep. I had to do my work like today because the interview is today. I know for sure that he might be sleeping or not. So I had to call my sister to come look after him. So I don’t get it structured. My destiny is to be a very busy one trying to combine caring for my baby at the same time. Yeah,


PIERCE 10:48

We’ve we looked we looked a lot into like, what you do and like, you know what we think your day could look like and busy was one of the first things we said we’re like, wow, she must be busy like because you do so much and it’s like wow, but yeah, yeah, that’s okay. Awesome. Cool. Okay, so now I think we can move on to like the regularly scheduled questions. And then yeah, so Abby, do you want to start with them and then I can take over halfway through or something?


ABBY 11:24

Yeah, so our first question is, how would you describe your work history? Maybe like how you started doing the jobs that you were doing in the past as a sex worker or even before that if you were participating in any other jobs?



Okay. Before now, I’ll say that my work history was kind of an interesting one. It was an interesting journey, and in terms of being interested is like people around me what I wake up to see myself doing and it challenges around the whole space and trying to match of that with what I believe as a person or as a girl child growing up, I’ll say is really an interesting one, an interesting journey, but I’m so grateful because I feel like it’s the journey that that made me who I am today is a journey that molded me into the woman I am today. So it’s been an interesting one. Both very, very crazy, crazy one at the same time because a lot of things was kind of happening within my space and but it’s been a while it’s been awesome, like I said, is my hero’s journey, experiences of pain and all that what I mean to the woman I am today and the decisions that I take, as I am now as a founder of an organization.


ABBY 12:57

Exactly. Okay. And how did you become a sex worker advocate?



Okay, I became obsessed with an advocate in the space where since I was selling my sex, and I was doing my sex work, and we had a lot of issues. Have a plan. Like someone like me, I’ve been arrested by the police more than twice. There’s two instances and even in the space where you tend to like, do your walk. You see the owners of the space mistreat you, even when you’re praying for the space. You also find yourself in a situation whereby you try to access health care services and you also get shut out even at some point you’re paying for them not seeking the services for free, but just from the site that this is who you are. You get a different attitude or a different perception of people trying to define you and get into a space where I see my friends falling sick, that last one to HIV, and all that. It kind of made me feel like I just had to stand up for myself because if I don’t, I’ll keep getting treated badly several times. I’ve been in a space where I’ve been abused as a sex worker. And not that I was abused because I was rude. No, I wasn’t abused because I did something wrong. But I was abused because I see myself differently. I see myself as a sex worker. I’m just reading the services to you. But my job is not my kind of life. I need to be able to define what my job life looks like and what I actually want in my personal life that is away from my work. To look like. So after the war experiences and the pain, I started speaking out for myself, we found ourselves like five of us were kind of friends that had that connection within ourselves. We had a connection that this is not what we just wanted. We just don’t want to wake up and see a lot of sex workers have been beaten by the police. Like I said, I’ve been arrested on several occasions. Like even when they arrest you, you might not read anything, but they want to arrest you to where you are. So we had that connection within ourselves as friends. And we started standing against a lot of things from the space where I was from the browser where I was we started studying a lot of things when we see sex workers being beaten by a client or by their boyfriends that the especial boyfriend we tend to intervene when we see police or we get information our police will be coming to raid our spaces. We get to inform other people to understand that police on the times to rate sex workers so how do you ensure you are safe within this period that the raid will be going on? So gradually, gradually. One of the NGOs that comes to share condoms for us in the space then they were looking for peer educators where we get the trained for us to educate other sex workers on how to use condom to stay consistent with condom use, how to also make use of their referral cards, maybe to specify hospitals or clinic. So I tried in the peer educator job for some time while doing it. I was kind of identifying who I was, I was discovering myself. I was discovering that part of me that wants things to be done differently. I was more into the whole job. I was committed to it. And when the opportunity came I felt like okay, in other countries, they have sex worker groups that stand for sex workers and in Nigeria it seems that was already coming up as well on how we can be a voice for ourselves and I started doing the whole stuff. That was how I just started the whole advocacy stuff and founded my organization and here I am today.


PIERCE 17:27

Awesome. That’s very important work that you do. And we’ve been learning about that in class. And it’s just nice to know that it’s a community supporting a community which is very important. Especially in groups that are being abused by their clients or by the people running the organizations that they’re working for. Yeah,


PIERCE 17:54

and I also threw out like all of our, like research on you because we did some extensive research but the first one of our first thoughts was like wow, like she She’s been like a part of this since like really like, like you were saying like, it was kind of like sex worker advocacy. Advocacy groups were kind of like gaining traction in Nigeria which is like, such a, like, you’re such a pioneer kind of in that way to be there kind of since a I don’t wanna say an early stage because I feel like people I don’t know how it is there but like, you’re you started your organization and like you’ve been there since the beginning kind of and like you’ve been able to create like, such a great like outreach and just, I just find that so powerful. But yeah, yeah.


Unknown 18:48

Going off of what you just said. What has there been like, have there been specific things that you’ve learned? Maybe about your community about yourself about the type of work that you do when you became an advocate for sex work?



Um, what have I learned? Learn dad consistency. Really, really EMS is a key to good advocacy work. Like, you just have to be there. You have to be in the space of those. You want to get them to things that you want them to do. You have to be in the face of those that you feel like they have the power to change things for you. When you’re consistent with it, and you’re not giving up. That’s the things I’ve learned over time. I’ve also learned the fact that the misconception people have about sex workers is kind of crazy. And this misconception keeps making a lot of things go wrong. Keep influencing the decisions, the policies. That we have. So and not like this is how it is this is not reality, but the consumption, the consumption they have a religion as part of that. Religion also happens to be something that can influence a lot of things negatively, when we thought it should be seen positively in God rather, it influences things negatively. And I’ve learned the fact that being a sex worker, being a sex worker is just a job that –sexual guys can also change a lot of things. If only they can be able to accept who they are, in terms of self stigma. Because over time walking, I think there was a time in my life when I was stigmatizing myself that I felt like I was different from people. I thought that what they were saying about sex workers about me as a sex worker was true. But the moment I started accepting who I was and saying that I am a sexual God, it is just a job. Is it cyberspace job so why should I feel different about it? The moment I learned about accepting myself for who I am as a sex worker, and that is also what I tell other sex workers to remind yourself who you are. You see a lot of these changing all the time.





Okay, so I think we left off talking about the specific skills it takes to be a sex worker advocate.



Yeah, I think I’ve talked about effective communication skills, analytical skills. And another thing is, when I was looking at the types of paths I felt people feel, it’s not a skill that one need to acquire but I’ll tell you that is a skill that won’t really need to acquire because we did the sex work community, you get to see a lot of different people. You get to see a lot of attitude and all that and if you don’t really have the skills of being patient with it. Getting to accept them for who they are, tended to assert their frustrations at the same time.You might not really be able to be the advocate because there will be times in your walk that you get tired of voices or the kind of words that comes out of their mouth can appease these sets you feel like I’m just tired. I know for sure that I’ve actually made a lot of people that come out that they want to be an advocate for sex workers. When they look at the voices of some sex workers, they tend to like, go back and but for me, I felt being able to have that actually worked for me, and here I am.



Moving on to the type of work that you do. This question asks, What type of sex workers do you work with? And how would you describe the type of work that they do? And the context maybe around the communities that they do it in? are the reasons why they do this type of work.



Okay, the different types of sex workers: male, female, transgender sex workers. I will describe the work as a service based work, it is a work that they render service to you and you pay them. However, I’ll say the country that we find ourselves like Nigeria, for example, that we have a lot of people recruited into the police academy, when they don’t even know what the Constitution says or they don’t even have the ability to define when they need to act and when they don’t need to act.Because people tend to lose their life in the process but by right, it is not supposed to be like that.In the service based work, you have sex with a client to satisfy their sexual pleasure, and I get paid and you go your way and I Igo mine. It is a service based work. A lot of them joined because they want to see sex work as work. Some of them also joined because they feel this is a particular job I need to do just for the cash or financial constraints of their families. They see themselves doing sex work, aside from other things they would have loved to do other careers they would have loved to pursue but because of the financial issues they tend to join sex work. While some make up their mind from the beginning, that this is the kind of job I want to do.Okay, I don’t know if I answered your question or do you want another dimension you want to push them to go? Are you wondering?



Yeah, I can. I think we’re trying to get a sense of the demographic of sex workers that you work with. So another question we have is like, what location do the sex workers kind of pursue their clients out of do they work? For example, do they work out of a sex hostel or a hotel, maybe their bedroom or a car we’re kind of just trying to get to know like…



Okay, it’s not a sex hostel, it is a brothel.



Okay, sorry.



There are some where they find themselves in slums, they have slums. Then, they also have those who work from their houses, where you call them home based sex workers.

So you have the brothel based sex workers. You have the non brothel based sex markets. However, the non brothel based sex workers are the ones you classify as those that operate in a club. In a slum, the home based social media on the internet is where they solicit their clients and their clients take them to the hotel. Then you also have those that go to big hotels. For example, you might see a hotel that is really expensive, and you have like four or five sex workers who pay up for a room, they stay there, and provide for their clients. Those clients are strictly those that they meet on social media platforms, like Facebook or Instagram, all of them so they just meet them on social media and invite them to lots of big hotels. And one thing about those big hotels is that for such sex workers, they kind of operate higher because based on the hotels they charge you based on the hotel, while those in the hotel are seen as the one in the local assets. The low class doesn’t want to find a hotel.

There are categories of people that were born with different genders, and some clients want sex with the same sex, and some have sex with the opposite sex. Because it’s a service, I don’t need to be a lesbian to render services through a lesbian. I don’t need to be one. I might be a male sex worker, but I’m not gay. But I just render my services. That is how they operate.



Right. And do the sex workers often do work just for themselves? Or are they a part of maybe specific organizations where they contribute some sum of money to another person? Maybe that’s different in like the places that they work, but what’s the kind of range that you, your client, that the people you work with?



Some work for themselves. Some have their madams or pimps. For example, if you’re working under a team, you can share the money the people may have 30% When you have 70%, depending on the agreement. Some sex workers also do their things, their own way. If they’re in a place where you have a madam, they can provide everything for you like feeding or clothing. Some of them do have their own agreement, based on how they brought you up.  What is the two way thing depending on how you came into the sex work business and who brought you. And there are those that practically work for themselves. They don’t work for anyone.



Okay, would you say it would be easier for a person to find work if they were working with a madam or a pimp other than if they were just working for themselves?



Well, the different thing about those that work for themselves and those who work for pimps, the pimps are actually doing their own markets or their own repeat clients they want for their goals. So those ones [working for a pimp] can have higher connections with personalities. Like politicians, and like, rich men basically, they make more money, but those are work on their own. It’s more like a luck thing. When luck shines on you then you get clients. If you’re going to the club to like, look for clients as well. It’s more like if any client seems to like him to pick you up. Or if you’re working under him, there are times you don’t need to go to the club. You practically do stay at your lodge or your house and the pimp does the whole job of getting a client for you. What you just need to do is to set up the client render services and you pick up your money and you go so most times I’ll say that basically those who work under a beam have higher chances of getting clients more than those that work alone.



Okay, onto a different realm of this topic. Do sex workers try to leave their jobs as sex work often and do they think about doing other work specifically the people that you work with?And the sex workers that you’ve encountered?



Yeah, for sure. A lot of sex workers have different careers. That’s the truth. They [sex workers] have different things in mind that when they grow up, this is how they’re going to be or this is the kind of job you want to do. But based on the financial issues, financial constraint, they see themselves doing sex work. And then they make their exit plan of how they leave, then they leave. So a lot of sex workers do have an exit plan. They do have careers, like being bankers. So [sex work] is not like a permanent job. It’s gonna be a part time job. I can do my work in the morning, then at night I sell sex. So it depends on the individual and what the individual wants.



Right. So they do leave? Do you know people that have left the industry before and then returned back to it? Later?



Yeah, I do have a lot of them. And is as a result of an unplanned exit plan, a result of a lack of a good exit plan.



Because if you want to leave, you gotta start making a plan from the beginning. You have to start thinking “what is my income like when I’m leaving?”, “How do I ensure that I manage my income to make sure that it’s cut out for your needs?” It might not be 100% of your need, but at least 50 to 60% of your need. Without a well defined exit plan, [they] tend to come back and we see a lot of them coming back.



Okay. All right. Pierce, do you want to ask some of the questions now?



Yes, I will. Okay, awesome. So, I’m gonna start with we’re going to talk about some like client and sex worker relations and like connections.So if you can, if there’s like a specific answer to this, could you describe a typical or just typical client, maybe of yours in the past or you could talk about regionally or just in the area? I don’t know if there’s a specific demographic of person…



When you sell sex work, clients come from different social statuses and genders as well. So for me, if you ask me like, is there…. I’ll actually use myself as an example. I’ve met a typical client, a guy that walks and picks you up and treats you like a queen. And you run your services, and then keep calling you like you feel like they make you really feel good. They make you understand the fact that yes, it is business. I intend to be very calm with you. I don’t need to be rude to you. They treat me like a queen. I’ve met people that I wished I hadn’t met. Crazy or rude. [They act like:]I don’t care, You just have to do whatever I want. Like when they walk into your room, they walk with so much attitude, and they might stay with you for another hour [than previously discussed]. And when you try to talk about it, they fight to stay longer. They become violent. They become violent, like violence in a way that this dude is on you for that period of time.



So there are the good ones. There are also crazy ones. So imagine you’re waking up in the morning looking so sexy, and you get to meet the man and he calls you beautiful the whole day. Some days I get  sweet, sweet, gentle guys that pay really good money and take care of you.. They tend to see [the situation] like okay, for me to get satisfaction with you, you need to be happy to satisfy me. So they try to make you as happy as they can for that moment that you’re with them. So that’s a typical client. When you have a bad client, you can’t  do anything. Most times the reports the the brothel owners and the brothel owners tend to support them because they feel that without them. You’re going to spoil their businesses so they tend to support more of the clients than the sex worker that works under their roof.



yeah, I wasn’t sure if there’d be any, you know, constant answer for that question, because obviously it’s going to be different every time but it’s really interesting because I mean, that’s kind of I want to say it’s what I expected you to say but like I did expect that there would be like a variation and like you know, you never kind of would you say that you can never know what you’re gonna get or something like do you ever know really or like is there a does the good guys really, like ever like outweigh the bad what other more good ones the bad ones? I don’t know. Just curious.



Bad ones more than the good ones. But sometimes you wake up and see a sweet looking guy with all your imagination showing you feel the guy is going to be very good. But when you go into the room with the person because it becomes like a wolf piece and you keep wandering, fit five we’ve collected money from teachers involved needing to give him this money back.

And as a sex worker as someone who has slept with you for like, let’s say 15, 20 minutes, and after going to distress the person wants you to give back the money becomes a very, very difficult decision to make. So you were like, Okay, why don’t I just enjoy it. I let the guy random up and go so I get to keep up the money for myself. Because if not, if I’m to give him the money, that means I’m giving him all the money. Some of them will say okay, they’re taking back 70% of your money. And you’re just keeping like 30% of the money after all the stress. So in a day, you don’t really determine the kind of person that comes your way. The day just presents itself.



Okay. And then. So going off of that one. Would you say that there is um, you have a lot of like, I mean, I don’t know, for you, but just in general, do you see a lot of like, repeat clients that go into the same sex workers like frequenting the same areas are like there’s just certain just like, I don’t know, a frequency of the same person or the same group of people going in the same areas or the same brothels and like stuff like that, do you think?



Yeah, there are people that visit a space consistently that sound the same. They just go to the same purpose, but they have an understanding. No matter what you do, no matter what you tell them to change. And even within the course of my week, there are brothels you go to, and I go to the brothel like four times a week or meet the same face of a client in that space four times per week. You know, it’s a service based work and like obviously, it’s a little bit different, but like in comparison to like any other service based work like people do, if people find something that they like, and like they stick with it. I feel like that’s kind of expected.



And then then, I feel like we’ve kind of touched on this, but the second part of the question, I feel like is a little bit different. So we’ve kind of touched on how sex workers are generally treated by clients because obviously there’s like a, like you said, you can either get the bad guys or you can get the good guys and stuff. But how would you say that the sex workers themselves, are able to, and how do they like protect themselves or like advocate for themselves in the moment by themselves kind of like without, you know, without the help of like a sex worker advocate like you but like, how would they literally advocate for themselves in the moment? Would you say, is there any that can? Over time, who has been able to like, educate sex workers on negotiation skills?



Lack of good negotiation is one of the reasons that we tend to see a lot of clients abuse sex workers. So we have tried as much as we can, and we still try and we’re still doing our best to ensure that we build sex workers have the capacity for negotiation and how to communicate with your clients. Yes, you see a random crazy one. But even if you have to meet like, five clients a day let it be just one that might be rude. And not one or even two. So it turns out that sex workers themselves have started having the skills of how to negotiate themselves, and that’s because they also developed being able to say no, even when advocates aren’t there. For example, in the past, I was the one that picks up the client, and the clients tend to be abusive, my neighbor will come and join me. Before you notice it, three to four sex workers will come up to stand for themselves without needing an advocate being there. And that is something I’m proud to see now compared to back then. When I used to do sex work, we didn’t see ourselves pulling out together to talk about it. We’re not together to say no, or stand for ourselves. But it’s happening now. Sex workers are standing up for themselves and find out for themselves in a way that even when people now have the space then to support the client will tell you that they are leaving your packing there’s things out of your space.So a lot has kind of changed, so basically, we can outwardly say that 80% of sex workers currently can stand for themselves.



All right. I just have a question. Would you attribute that change in self advocacy from maybe just more of a prevalence of advocacy groups in your area or maybe because of social media? Is there like a specific reason why now people are more likely to stand up for themselves?



Yeah, it’s both the social media and the advocacy groups. Before, it was very rare for you to see girls admit the fact that there are sex workers on social media. But now it seems to be something that is common.Compared to before, I remember  that I couldn’t even open my mouth and tell someone “I’m a sex worker”.  I don’t feel ashamed anymore to say that. And when I say that I’m a sex worker, people tend to look at me like “Are you serious? You don’t even look like a sex worker.” Social media platforms have actually contributed a lot towards this particular growth of sex workers standing for themselves coming up, at least in Nigeria before there were any sex worker led organizations in Nigeria. But currently we have more than 40 sex worker led organizations in Nigeria, existing ones that are constantly doing something. Before 2012, there were no sex worker led organizations or currently there are more than 40 active sex worker led organizations in Nigeria.


Part 3


00:12 Abby

We’ll be all set until the end of the interview for this. Okay.


00:25 Pierce

Okay, so I think we can probably move on to some questions about the organization that you work for and that you started specifically. Because obviously that’s a really important part of what you do and that’s like, that’s your job. So we really want to be able to focus on that. So what is it that your organization, we’ve obviously done research, but we want you to hear your answer of what is your organization focus on kind of?


00:55 Josephine

in general. Okay. Greater Women Initiative for Health and Right is an organization that is led by practicing and former and practicing sex workers. So within our space, we have both male sex workers that are still practicing, those that are no longer practicing, same as female sex workers, same as transgender sex workers. Yeah, that are still practicing and the ones that are no longer practicing. So physically as an organization, we advocate for the rights and health needs of sex workers. We also provide HIV services in terms of HIV counseling and testing. We also do referral. And currently as an organization, we have a community-based clinic where in the clinic, we provide STI services, cervical cancer screening. And these services are being funded by the organization itself. Like we have a clinic, we have a lab, we have lab technicians, we have doctors that come up and we are the one that pays for these services. We are the one that buy the drugs, like the STI drugs and the marijuana drugs we provide there. We are the one that provide, they have provided resources to acquire this particular services for our people.


02:26 Josephine

And the money that we use in doing that, basically the money that we get from our social enterprise services that we render as an organization. While the HIV testing and counseling services that we do are being funded by donors, some are from PEPFAR, some are from US Embassy, some are from USAID.


02:54 Josephine

And we also provide the human rights aspects of our program because we understand the fact that if we need zero HIV infection among sex, if we need to have zero, let’s just say zero infection, all kind of infection or diseases among sex workers, that means we need to start looking at how we are going to achieve a conducive environment for sex work.


03:22 Josephine

because we feel when their rights are protected, then they can give you the audience you need. When their rights are protected, they can be less vulnerable to these particular infections. But when their rights and the environment they operate are not safe, obviously, these infections will keep increasing. So that is why we try as much as we can to get funding that is specifically meant for human rights programming for sex workers. And currently we have funding from UN Women, we have funding from ISDA, we have funding, partially received funding from French Embassy Nigeria. We also received money from African Women Development Fund, that’s AWDF, to do the structural intervention.


04:19 Josephine

Even AVAC, I was once an AVAC Fellow, 2020, 2021. And the funding was basically for structural intervention that we do. So this is the kind of work that my organization does. We also do the economic empowerment program because we understand the fact that majority of sex workers join sex work because of financial issues.


04:45 Josephine

So for us to make sure that we also support their financial growth, we also provide economic empowerment programs. We encourage sex workers to learn different kind of skills to be able to have a standard source of income. Well, like not just an income coming from sex work, we also have an extra source of income that you can actually combine together to meet up your needs essentially.


05:18 Josephine

So as an organization, we’re basically standing as a voice for sex workers. For sex workers, I can’t come up openly to say who they are. We are the face that tells you this is who we are and we are here. So these are basically what my organization is into.


05:43 Piere

Awesome. Thank you. I mean, we have some other questions, but I feel like no, no, don’t. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.



We also as an organization, try to build the capacity of sex workers to become the voice of your own, like in terms of our legal services, because we feel that for people to protect their rights, like you said, and I’m talking about, can they defend themselves? They need to hold their rights, right? And for them to know their rights, someone needs to tell them.


06:12 Josephine

So we try as much as we can to be the capacity of sex workers who are very vocal, so they can go into the community and educate sex workers about their rights, interpret what the law says. Because in Nigeria, currently, the law indirectly criminalizes sex workers. Indirectly because the law particularly criminalizes third party and hotel keepers you understand.


06:43 Josephine

So when police officers come to raid and all that, they don’t even know how to approach the situation. But when their rights are being built, they can be able to stand for themselves both in front of the police and in front of the clients. So more of the work we do is in terms of capacity building because we can be everywhere. We cannot be everywhere. For us not to be everywhere, we want a sex worker that is everywhere or anywhere, to have what it takes to understand what the law says, what they can do to protect themselves, what they can, where they can actually seek help from, from any kind of services they have, they want, they need to assess, this is where they can assess it. So try and build a lot of capacities of sex workers as community champions and advocate for different, different infections. The HIV community advocate, SRHR community advocates, human rights community advocates as well. So these are basically what my organization in general do. Over.


07:51 Pierce

Awesome. Yeah, thank you so much. All right, so then I feel like, thank you. You just answered so many questions that we were just about to ask, which is awesome. But so more related to like your personal experience at your organization, what would you say, what would you say that the most satisfying or like the best part of your job has been or what have you liked the most about

starting organization and being such an integral part in advocacy for sex workers.


08:28 Josephine

Let’s say the interesting part is seeing sex workers smile. Yeah, changing lives. Using my past experience as a sex worker to change the life of the younger ones, young sex workers, guiding them through. That’s the best part of my work. Yeah, that is just the best part of it.


08:58 Josephine

Also giving that support to the ones that really want to exit, make sure like try as much as I can to support them and have a well-defined exit plan. And I see a lot of them succeeding that. That’s the best part of my work that I’m really proud of.


09:16 Pierce

Yeah, I can imagine that that’s probably really empowering. And that’s probably one of the best parts, because I do feel like what you’ve been saying, like, you know, this whole interview is how important it is to educate sex workers that don’t know, like about their rights and like about, like you were just saying about like the police raids and like stuff like that. So it’s, and like, as someone who like, I’ve taught before, which is obviously very different, but like, It’s like to be able to impart wisdom or like to teach other people as such. I think it’s a very powerful thing. And you’re doing such a fascinating, not fascinating, but like it’s such a powerful and interesting form of education. And it’s such an important thing, especially where you are, which is why it’s so important. So thank you for answering that. And then. On the flip side, what would you say the challenges or issues that come with your job are other than like the obvious that it’s hard work, but.


10:21 Josephine

Wow, the challenges that comes to my work is, going to a space where we have decision makers, and you just raise up your hand, and you say, I’m a sex worker, they kind of, they turn around and look from people, you know, it’s quite challenging, like, it’s really, it’s really challenging, and, Another challenging part of my work is very, very key is the fact that trying to change laws, especially laws that are rooted in traditional or cultural belief system, trying to change those laws is very, very challenging. It is not work. For years, it takes a lot to change a law.


11:19 Josephine

Like a lot. Even trying to make the decision makers to to to really listen to you is very challenging. I remember for example in River State there were times when um I they they should I say stakeholders stopped inviting me for meetings because you invited me for a meeting I must not agree to what you’re saying especially when it’s not my reality.


11:48 Josephine

So a lot of them tend to like invite you for meetings for you to like accept whatever they say. And for the first, I became this stubborn, this stubborn advocate that wouldn’t accept it. I, they stopped inviting me for meetings for like a year plus. And I said, okay, good. I started soliciting for funding. I started writing proposals from international donors. And when I started getting funding from international bodies to do my human right work,


12:16 Josephine

And they understand the fact that I don’t need their money to do my work. And at this point, you’re not the one inviting me for a meeting. I’m the one inviting you for a meeting. And when I’m inviting you for a meeting, I’m inviting you to my space, my office. So you tend to see my reality. You get, so during that period of time, trying to change their mindset was really challenging. Stopping being invited was a challenging aspect.


12:45 Josephine

So basically trying to protect the law and do other things that I wish we could or we are trying to do as an organization is very challenging. Sometimes, the stakeholders even try to accept these challenges. Because when they hear the word sex work, I’m a sex worker, they look at you like, oh, this woman is an irresponsible being. She’s a sex worker. She sells sex right now, she’s a whore. So what am I doing with her?


13:13 Josephine

What do you think she can say and all that? So it’s very, very challenging trying to change all that. I find the fact that I have family, I have my baby, you get so. Knowing fully well that time will come and baby will look around and said, my mom was there, it’s still challenging. You get, but I try as much as I can to keep it up with the opposite.


13:45 Josephine

I’m going to stop the positive attitude of the whole thing that finally I need to stop. But I look at the positive aspect of it, and it’s weighing me down. That’s why I talk about resilience. I feel I shouldn’t be there. So basically the work is a challenging one, but we keep pushing.


14:10 Pierce

Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for answering that. So then our last question pertaining to your organization and like how you’ve, like your job now kind of is what, and I feel like we can probably answer this, but we also do want to have you answer it. But what do you want people to know about becoming a sex worker advocate and like how so much how important it is because I feel like we know how important it is. It’s very important. But how do you think people should be thinking about becoming one? And how will that affect them? And how will that affect the world kind of thing, I guess?


14:54 Josephine

I really encourage people to be sex workers. Okay, because someone you love somewhere is a sex worker. That’s the truth. You know, there are a lot of people that are into sex work but have not been able to accept it or come up openly to tell you, as long as you exchange sex for money, for services, for favor, you are a sex worker. You sold sex for something. So someone wears someone you love as a sex one. So I really, should I say, I really want to encourage people to become a sex worker. Because it opens you up to a lot of things, the reality of life. You don’t sit on the four corners of your room and make decisions and assume it’s like that. You don’t sit on the four corners of your room and define the reality of someone else. But When you come openly to embrace it and talk to these people, hear their own side of their stories, you see that you really wanna change humanity, you really wanna make an impact. Of what use are we in life if we can make an impact somewhere? So if you don’t have anywhere that you need to make an impact, come and join the sex workers community and make an impact in the sex workers community. And we will definitely appreciate it.

16:21 Josephine

When you’re doing that, you’re touching someone’s life. You’re changing someone’s reality. So you being an SSS worker advocate takes you nothing. Don’t be scared. Just come into the space and you will learn through the job. That is the truth. It’s something that you learn every day. Things are changing. There’s no fear about it. Especially the only thing that, okay,


16:49 Josephine

You might say, okay, fine. What will your family say about it? My family already know that I advocate for sex work because I try as much as I can to define who a sex worker is, to share the struggles, the pains of sex workers. So you tend to put yourself in their shoes. If you are there, if you are the one, would you wanna keep quiet about it? This is who I was and this is who I am now. So will you define me now?


17:17 Josephine

because I was a sex worker, you can’t define me like that. So my family have tend to accept me, accept my job, accept the sex workers community. That even when they go outside and they see a sex worker being hunted by someone, they try as much as I can to rescue. My brothers do support, but as we say, no, no, no, no. And when they come home, they’ll tend to share the stories of how they met someone outside trying to abuse a sex worker. This is what they did.


17:46 Josephine

And I feel so excited seeing that happen. And it’s because I am an advocate of sex work. So the fact is that if you really want to join the sex workers team, like I would encourage you to come and join us, even as you’re doing your project in school. It wouldn’t be a bad idea. So just be free, be fearless. Understand the fact that there’s no big deal about it. It’s just like an advocacy of.


18:15 Josephine

Just like an advocacy in terms of, let’s say, an advocate for malaria, an advocate for women with cancer, an advocate for those living with HIV, an advocate for men who has post-traumatic cancer, it’s the same thing. An advocate for those in IDP camp, like refugees, it’s just the same thing, because the same struggles of sex workers one way or the other, someone somewhere else is also facing that kind of a strong.


18:50 Josephine

So it’s not something you can’t do. It’s just for you to sit with sex workers, learn more about them, understand their struggles, put yourself in their shoes. You will see the whole vision, the whole spirit drives you.


19:06 Josephine

The pain they feel if you have to put yourself in their shoes will motivate you to do something. So it’s about you accepting who they are. Empathy works there. You have to understand that that empathy is there. You just have to have it. It just said like just in my parable, they says who wears the shoes understand where it paints them. Try and put yourself as someone wearing the shoes. That is what it is. And you see yourself being a great advocate for sexism.


19:43 Pierce

Yeah, that’s so nice. And I think that also such a big part of it is what you’ve been talking about is just like de-stigmatization and just like teaching people about there’s so much more to sex work and yeah, sex work than most people know. And most people just think of it as, oh, you’re having sex and getting paid for it, but there’s so much more that goes into it. And also people always just always think like, oh, like, well, that was…I mean, in like a case of it being like a female sex work, like, oh, it was her choice to do this. Like she’s just doing it so she can like, make money. Well, like some people like, like it’s not so much a choice, but it’s just like, it’s a way to make a living. And it’s, you know, there’s just so much more to it than most people know. And that’s what, why your organization is so important. And I think that that’s obviously why you started it, I feel like, but yeah.


20:43 Pierce

That’s really powerful. Okay. Abby, would you like to continue with the questions? Yeah. Thank you so much, Josephine. We have- You’re welcome. Like we have one more section of questions. So we’re almost done with the interview, but this last question is talking more about the laws in your country. So what, just like overall, what are the laws like in Nigeria around sex work?


21:12 Abby

Um, you’ve talked about this a little bit, but we’d like to know like specifically maybe like how your advocacy group works around these laws, but just if you could answer like, what are they like in general in Nigeria?


21:29 Josephine

Okay, the human rights protection laws in Nigeria generally does not have the interest of sex workers. And it’s been written in a conflicting way that most times it takes a lot for you to find someone that will interpret it for you. So generally law is not favorable for sex workers. It’s not at all. And like I said earlier when I talked about the Nigerian constitution. Nigerian constitution is against against brutal keeping, it’s terms of the families and it caught soliciting for sex, if even when sex workers are not arrested. Now, you were talking about a law, right? And you said that you do not want broad-tale keeping in the country.


22:35 Josephine

Then if you want to raid, why raid sex workers living in the building? Why don’t you raid the owner of the space? Like we’re having a meeting with a human rights commission and I bought it up. I was like, the law says, brother keeping is a law. It’s more like the owner of a house.


22:53 Josephine

You said you don’t want this building there and builds there. Now, tenants of the house. The tenants, they are not the one want to arrest, you should start structure there which is the the end of the day, the Nigerian


23:24 Josephine

Nigeria at the same time, the laws talks about the issue of gender, talk about the gender inequality and the gender. Nigeria has signed a lot of treaties, international treaties. But these treaties are not implemented. I don’t know most times if they signed those treaties because they want funding from somewhere. I don’t know why the government signed those treaties, even when you know you’re not going to abide by the treaties. But yet, Nigeria has signed treaties in terms of anti-stigma discrimination law. But yet, Nigeria even develops some by themselves, but it’s still not favorable. So the law in Nigeria is crazy. It’s not favorable to sex workers at all. Raga, and most times, I don’t know how they do it. If they wanna like develop a policy, they bring all the professors in the whole world, the world that has a lot of big English to come and draft a document. And this document that is that the normal Nigerian can’t even interpret this particular document. Even the police themselves doesn’t even know what the document says.


24:45 Josephine

So it becomes very difficult for sex workers or for advocates like us to even say, this is it, to fight for some certain things. However, we developed another means.


25:06 Josephine

When we bring those documents, we localize them than what the document says. So we’re doing the localization of these documents. Like for example, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act is a law, is an act that when a sex worker, for example, irrespective of the gender, is violated, person can use the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act as a tool to say, no, my rights have been violated. This is how it is. This is what the law says.


25:36 Josephine

So why can’t I do this? Do you understand? But no, and people, the government themselves in some states, some states have not been able to implement this particular laws, they have not been able to adopt it, and you keep asking why. Is a document that’s governing Nigeria, right? Fine, so why is it not being implemented? And the lack of institutional accountability also makes it worse.


26:05 Josephine

Even those institutions that have been placed to take care of these laws, that are placed to implement these laws to hold perpetrators accountable, they’re still not doing nothing. So the whole system, the whole laws in Nigeria becomes very crazy and unacceptable. And for one to really survive the whole states, we have to start localizing them so that our people will understand what the law says. Yeah, they’ll bring professors to break it down. We’ll also bring professors to do what? To localize this particular English for us so that our people can understand everything that has been written in the document. And so far so good, there has been a lot of synergy within the civil society space.


26:58 Josephine

supporting sex workers’ rights movements. Like I said earlier on, we have like 40 something sex workers’ organizations. So we are becoming stronger. We’re coming out to say, we don’t like this, this law is not working for us. We’ve had a lot of meetings with the Human Rights Commission, both at the national level. We’ve actually had a case before, I know there was a time Nigerian police were arresting women.


27:25 Josephine

they are sex workers, they are What makes you think she’s a following what the law says? soliciting for sex like what thing they will charge you for charging me for a lottery? And time when people should walk law that says I shouldn’t walk


27:54 Josephine

or eleven PM in the night. There’s no law that states that. The law says when I’m being called, soliciting for sex, and you can never see a sex worker soliciting for sex outside.


28:07 Josephine

So why are you not even implementing what the law says? So you now see when I talked about the issue of traditional religious belief system, influencing what happens within the Nigerian law. The Nigerian, the Nigerian decision-maker has tend to like operate based on what their religious belief says. For example, in the North, if you’re a sex worker, they can stone you to death.


**Audio Issues**


28:46 Josephine

and they stole her money and stole my money, can you give it was then mobilize themselves workers and killed her. (Audio Issues, Unclear) They are they are they the Quran. Yes, the Quran. They the sex woman. We’ve seen Muslim sex workers like forbid from participating in their normal prayers because they found out that she was a sex worker. Even when she was going to learn the Arabic stuff, there was a place she registered to learn Arabic and all that. They forbidden her from attending. She’s even my staff. All because they found out that she was a sex worker. So you now see that both the local laws, the national laws, the traditional laws, none of them seems to favor sex workers at all.


29:56 Josephine

even in the villages, you see a lot of sex workers being beaten and they will tell you that their law says nobody should sexless walk in their place. Nobody should do sex work in your place but those buildings are there. If you really want to start your law then you should be able to start up with the landlords that owns the building and not fighting against the tenants that is just paying for his space.


30:29 Josephine

So basically, Abby, the law in Nigeria is crazy, is not favorable to sex workers at all. But in churches, even the local church law is not favorable for sex workers. You go to the facilities, the facilities law are not favorable for sex workers at the same time. When you talk about a standard operating procedures of facilities, it’s not favorable at all.


30:56 Josephine

because when you go to a facility, yes, we have anti-stigma and discrimination law. But right there in front of you, you will see a healthcare provider stigmatizing a sex worker. You see a healthcare provider coming to the to the clinic with her Bible or her church pamphlets to tell the sex worker, okay, I am a mom, I’m here to assess the services. I have an STI and I’m here to assess services. STI, what do you do for a living? I’m a sex worker. Wow.


31:26 Josephine

That means you have how many boyfriends? How many men have slept with you? Wow, that’s why you have STI. The next thing you’re gonna see, she will now bring out the pamphlet of their churches. We are having a crusade next week, and this crusade is about changing your life. The crusade will change your life. That is not what you’re here for. You are there to treat someone irrespective of the person’s choice of job or the person’s gender identity or expression. But no, but they’re healthcare providers and they have their own SOP that says no stigma.


32:06 Josephine

So basically all laws, health law, human rights law, social welfare laws, none of them is favorable for sex workers. Cause I remember during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people were giving pallet, the EPP, that the EPP does effective protective equipment. PP, they gave them a lot of pallet, they gave them a lot of PPE, But yet, nothing was given to sex workers. Rather, it was sex workers that were mobilizing resources for themselves to support those in the rural community.


32:48  Josephine

When you’re stopping, there’s a lot of coffee. Nobody has the movement, people are not moving out. Like all that.


32:57 Josephine

But no, things were given, palliative were given to others, but sex workers did not receive nothing. I think it was another organization that even supported, like an NGO that supported. But in terms of Nigerian government, Nigerian government did not give any sex worker any palliative during the COVID-19.


33:21 Josephine

So you now see, even when they provide the normal economic empowerment programs they provide for women, they don’t even recognize sex workers who are women. Not to talk about trans women. Trans women, obviously is another story because currently in Nigeria, for the father they do not conform to societal norms. They’re not even regarded. When they are abused, nobody talks about it.


33:50 Josephine

because a few years, why did you change your gender from what you used to be? So imagine a transgender facing, intersecting from violence and discrimination, like she’s, they are trans, they’re also a sex worker, double, double discrimination.


34:39 Josephine

based on a traditional belief and not based on the reality of life or on the on the notes of what is good or on the note of this is people’s human rights. We need to write it so that it to match up with the human rights we have or the rights we have in our constitution as a country. So any leader that goes into Nigeria law, any leader that takes position in Nigeria to develop his or her own she believes. If they want to amended based on what he or she


35:56 Josephine

So basically these ones are the ones that kind of try as much as they can to ensure that the law, even as much as we might not be able to achieve 100% reform of the law, but at least let there be a form of implementation of the ones we can hold accountable, we can hold Nigeria accountable with, especially the international treaties they sign. We try as much as we can as an advocate to say, this is what you signed here.


36:23 Josephine

So I’m not the one that signed it for you. You signed it. So you have to open up to what you signed. So these are, so basically when as an advocate, practically leverage on those laws that we know that Nigeria signed, Nigeria developed and we try as much as we can to hold institutions accountable for it. And so far so good. We have been achieving a lot of changes. There’s a lot of improvements. At least currently we’ve started, my organization kicked off


36:53 Josephine

the sensitization campaign that was since like last year, early last year to sensitize law enforcement agencies on the right of sex workers. So we go to the, we move to them, to the police, we go to their station to educate them about the right of sex workers and why they should abide by what the law says and not implement what they do not. We also started talking about how do the police


37:21 Josephine

within the academy, the police academy, during the academy or during the recruitment processes, let them start educating the Nigerian police on what the law says. Right. And then start interpreting the laws and not just recruiting them because you want to recruit young boys to join the police force. But when you’re recruiting them, also endeavor to do what? Interprets, call a lawyer that can interpret what the constitution says.


37:50 Josephine

that are in the country. So now when they understand it, they can be able to implement it when they are out of the academy. And not just sending them out of the academy with a lot of batting and guns. And when they go, after drinking and smoking, they just enter one particular brothel and raid everybody. Beat the ones they want to beat and go home. So currently, we also have test workers documenting evidences that we can use to hold police accountable themselves.


So part of the team’s right to get in sex workers is that when you see a policeman abusing a sex worker, kindly do what? Kindly take a picture or a video of them. Because currently the new Inspector General Police has been doing so much. They have been a lot of advocacy from the international donors, from the local NGOs as well, from the civil society organization in general. Right.


38:48 Josephine

to hold institutions accountable for every institution that is a government institution, neither a ministry, anyone holding them accountable for what they’re in due assign for. So now the inspector general police are beginning to dethrone a lot of police officers from the courts, abusing people, and they check, and when they do the investigation and find out the police man is at fault, they tend to remove their uniform. So we’re heading somewhere.


39:17 Josephine

So that is why we also encourage sex workers to make sure that they have videos, evidence, a lot of evidence of videos, where we can actually use to hold police accountable for those that are very kind of abusive, that are kind of abusing the power that was given to them because they are there to protect and not to kill people and not to allow perpetrators of violence go sort of free all because the person is a sex worker. I’m a living, I’m a living.


Part 4



Yeah so basically that the whole situation currently in Nigeria when we are talking about the laws and all that.


Right. That sounds very complicated and very frustrating for the work that you do



Well so far so good, we are heading somewhere



Yeah, and I was going to say it’s very important that there has been an increase in advocacy groups in Nigeria because then that means more pressure on the government and more pressure on the laws which can mean more change. Which is very important. So its great and we respect your work so much. And its very very important for your country and for the world and i guess the overall goal is to destigmatize sex work completly but thats, it takes alot for that to happen. But those are all of our questions. Well we have one more question just to wrap everything up. Which is what does sex work mean to you.



(Inaudible) Ok. Hello Abby, are you there?



Yeah, can you hear us



What does it mean to me? Sex work is work. I said it before it is work, it is a service based work. It is a work that people (cuts out)… used to support their basic needs. It’s like every other job that is serviced based. You pay them and (cuts out)… and it’s a work that needs to be respected just like respect every other profession. That is what sex work is. I say that someone you love somewhere is a sex worker, you might not know.



Ok. Those are all of our questions but really quickly is there anything else you would like to add or think we should know? Especially thinking about moving forwards, what would you like to see or anything else you were hoping we would ask or we should talk about. It’s a very big question but if you have anything else to add or you hope that we understand



I think we talked about the challenges that sex workers face. We’ve talk about the stigma and discrimination they also face. Um what else do… I’ve shared my personal life and personal (inaudible) as a sex worker. Ok maybe we can talk a little bit about sex workers living with HIV. Cause we didn’t get to talk about that. Cause their life is more, how do I say, is more challenging being a sex worker and also living with HIV. And living with HIV in a sense that people get to know about it can become very very difficult for sex workers to do their businesses. And even with seeing our (inaudible) space you don’t really see much programing that talks about economic empowerment for sex workers living with HIV aside the ones that we (inaudible) in terms of (inaudible) funding and all that, you don’t really see much about that, about sex workers living with HIV. and also with their children too. The challenges, the bullying sex workers children face. Cause one children or the teacher tends to find out they are children of sex workers. How they are being treated differently in school, how they face alot of bully[ing] in school. Yeah. (Inaudible) In Nigeria is quite crazy so you now see alot of sex workers having their children leave elsewhere while they do their sex work elsewhere. And trying to match up that becomes very difficult. When their kids are living far away from you you are staying far away. You trying to keep up with the child. You know, there’s a lot of disconnection between the mom and the child. So you know before I don’t really see much about that but the moment I gave birth I tend to understand what it feels like to be away from your child. Or because you don’t want people to know that this is it and they tend to stigmatize your child… in the purposes of trying to avoid that kind of experience for the child, they have this source of disconnection with their child. Because they get to visit when they give someone, like a nanny or a relative that takes care of the child, and they get to visit once and a while. At that point they don’t seem to understand what is going on in the child’s life. Its not every nanny that can take care of your child in terms of the (Africa?) so its more like, don’t compare the nannies here to the ones abroad. nannies are overseas it’s a very different. They are more caring than the nannies here. So trying to match up work as a sex worker and also trying to take care of your kids becomes very difficult. At some point there is some form of disconnection between the mom and the kids (are breaking). That when a child, some of them turns out great, some of them doesn’t seem to turn out great because they start messing up with different kind of people they are not supposed to miz up. That can change their live negatively and not positively. Instead of impacting the kids positively (idk) is impacting the kids negatively. So in terms of that and its quite good we start seeing (idk) organizations talk about children of sex workers. Even children of sex workers living with HIV too because there are alot of sex workers there that also don’t really know they are HIV positive and this attitude of carelessness and not being able to take care of their kids, not even the world carelessness, lets say this attitude of not being informed, not carelessness but not being informed, leads to ignorance to a lot of things and their child tends to be HIV positive. And based on the stigma sex workers face as well a lot of them want to get better, they don’t get better. At the clinic they tend to get better with traditional (inaudible) who alot of them are not professionals. And there might be someone, a sex worker living with HIV, and get (bet through a traditional bettatendance???) that chances of the baby being affected with HIV is there and the child tends to grow up and face a lot of stigma because of what the mom does. A Lot of sex workers don’t seem to forgive themselves for that as well because they feel like they are the reason why their child or their children are facing that kind of stigmatization. So that also breaks them down, that affects a lot of mental health. So even in terms of programming. Programming for sex workers don’t really talk about the mental condition of sex workers. If a sex worker is not stable and she is living with HIV and you are giving her the HIV drugs, for crying out loud there is not way she cannot (idk) to those drugs because she has a mental health issues. So in terms of the mental health of sex workers people don’t really talk about. And even the violence they face still impact them wrongly with their mental health. They don’t becomes stable anymore, do you understand. So their mental health is also at stake and if they are also not in a good mental health condition, it also affect their babies. Even those living with their child. So while we are talking about HIV programming, everything goes hand in hand. When we are talking about HIV programming, we need to talk about the structural intervention surrounding it. This structural intervention has to be built with a human rights protection aspect around it. Access to justice because if as a sex worker and i get violated and i report to the police and the police does not do anything about it. And i report to the lawyers and the lawyers hold police accountable. And the police tend to face the judgement and face what they did, obviously the last person will want to report. Or if i am reporting and i dont get justice why would… cause they need to start talking about the mental health conditions of sex workers (cuts out)…


Yeah so like what i said, if mental health of sex workers not stable we can be talking about access to service provisions, (idk) of services. So there’s a need to look at the issue of mental health because mental health is another challenge that sex workers have within the community and its becoming rampant, theres alot of undocumented issues of mental health that obviously affect service provisions the rest is kind of on going. Theres alot of issues of undocumented mental health as a result of sexual violence, physical violence (idk) or by their cilents as well. So (idk) these are the challenges that sex workers are facing currently, and alot has also been done while we keep pushing foward to achieve better overall. I think we have covered everything now, I think so. Cause these are the things I know we didn’t talk about. Unless you have questions regarding these things we just talked about then no problem.



We don’t have any questions prepared for those topics but we appreciate that you brought them up because they are very important and contribute to the stories of the lives of sex workers everywhere, not just in Nigeria. But that’s the end of all the questions we have for you and we really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to talk to us. Personally, I’ve learned a lot just from sitting here for the past few hours but we really really appreciate all of this. If you have any questions for us, we will keep in touch because we are going to share what we do with all of the information that you gave us. But if you have any questions feel free to email us and our other partner Ian or our professor or Mr. Meade because are all working on this together.



Yeah its fine. Also if you remember you have any questions that also support the work you do or the kind of you are doing, feel free to also email me and I’ll provide you responses.



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Sex/Work by Ariella Rotramel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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