The trade ebbs and flows with the seasons. News spreads through the grapevine when large numbers of tourists arrive, and then so do the sex workers. For example, when a ship docks in the port of Mombasa, with a cargo of big-spending and fun-loving US Marines, sex workers – male and female – flood the town in the hope of getting their hands on some coveted greenbacks.
There are an estimated 4161 sex workers in Msambweni district
Then there are the cottages, which are the bane of volunteers such as Martha and Gabriel. Behind their steel gates and perimeter fences where the volunteers can’t enter as they can in hotels and pubs, sex tourism takes on different shapes, sometimes including pornography, sadomasochism, child abuse and even fatalities.
Gabriel feels very strongly about the fact that some parents go with their kids into clubs to fish for clients, some of these youngsters aged only 15. He also tells me of a local guy who regularly wife-swaps with a tourist; they trust each other so much that when this couple visits, the local couple are the only people they do “business” with.
Martha tells me another story. “Recently, there was a tourist who was all over a guy from this area. He wears studs in both ears and we all know that he’s a male sex worker. He was dragging the local man to a car, saying that he’d spent a lot of money on him and it was time to pay up. The scene is changing. If a female sex worker is waiting for a client, and a male sex worker sits beside her, also waiting for a client, believe it or not, but the guy will probably beat her to it; male sex workers are in high demand.”
Drug abuse has also fuelled sex tourism, because it’s an easy way to get money for a fix. Victims are too out of it to take note of the vicious cycle in which they find themselves.
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