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I imagine it must be very difficult to be a sex worker in a country like Kenya where the legal infrastructure has criminalized only the supply side of the industry. It is common to see the police conduct a crackdown time to time, where women dressed in skimpy dresses from dingy lodging get huddled into the back of a police cars. Yet, the owners of these dingy lodging rarely get the ‘full force of the law’ applied to them.

If the women actually make it to the police station, or they get coercion into giving bribes in exchange for their freedom is a different story. In this article, we are going to shade some light to the dangerous world of sex work in Kenya and other countries where it is illegal.

The sex workers (including men) in Kenya are earning their daily bread the dangerous way. In a society where there is stigmatization of prostitution, and violence perpetrated against sex workers is generally accepted. A woman who walks into a hospital after sex work encounter gone wrong, the nurses (even the female nurses) often shy away from attending to them, and some outrightly say they deserved the beating.

In the streets, women in the trade can bear witness of a friend also in the trade who was last seen disappearing away with a client, only to turn up the next morning dead in a dingy lodging or damped in some excluded place. These women have no one to turn to, they can’t go to the police as from the start their trade is illegal. They can’t call out to the public as the society looks down on them. They only have their peers for protection and support.

However, often a sex worker does not get the chance to call their peer for help. They could be locked up in some room, or driven to a far location with their phone not being nearby. Even if they were to call, they might not have enough time to give their location or the friend to get to them in time.

Introducing Artemis Umbrella, the security app for sex workers

The Artemis’ Umbrella is a mobile app developed in Finland for sex workers across the world. While there are multiple apps out there for personal safety, this app is uniquely designed to meet the security needs of sex workers.

Artemis’ Umbrella allows the user to alert a trusted contact whenever they are in trouble. The trusted contact will get to know the user’s current location and track their smartphone.

The idea for the application came up about two years ago when I visited Nairobi, Kenya, with a parliamentary committee and met some local sex workers on my own,” said Anna Kontula, a member of the Finnish Parliament and President of Sociaalasema X. “I realized that even though the sex workers were in a tough spot with the legal system, stigma attached to work and poverty, they all had a smartphone, which could be used as security resource. After meeting up with them I started planning, would it be possible to build a safety application for them?”

Sociaalasema X is a small not-for-profit organization with a mission of developing peer support tools and practices.

With Artemis’ Umbrella, sex workers can pre-program a friend who the app will automatically call up should anything go wrong. The sex worker needs to pre-program the app before they go off with a client to whichever designate private place.

Preempting scenarios when the sex workers cannot access their phone, the app is designed to work as an alarm which goes off after a timer elapses. When the alarm goes off, the app will call up the trusted contact with details of the location. That is a fail-safe feature, but ordinarily, the user can press a button to call up the trusted friend.

The app is currently available only in English and Finnish. You can download the app from www.ArtemisUmbrella.com website.

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