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World’s oldest profession prostitution is going digital. You can find a girl through an app or a website.

The digital nature has still not caught up with the older crop of twilight girls who claim they don’t know how to use smartphones — or even get a customer to make a website for them.

Despite the inconsequential fact that sex work is illegal in Kenya, the business has never been better, whether on the streets (old school) or through online connections to dingy houses, high-class clubs or hotels.

Digital prostitution is gradually taking over in Nairobi and other major cities.

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Alex, a pimp, said he has managed to provide a decent living for his young family in a two-bedroom house in Lavington.

He focusses on his circle of friends, who are picky about women.

I hook up politicians and high-end clients with sexy women. I have been in this game for five years and have connections. Whenever new kids (women) come on the block, my clients connect them to me,” he said.

“Women send me explicit photos and I share them in a group, where I am the admin and we operate on the first-come, first-serve basis. Whoever likes a lady chats me on a sidebar and we agree on the fee.”

He charges from Sh5,000 up, depending on the woman’s body. “The more meat she has the more money I make,’ he explained. 

Recently, I posed as a sex worker at a number of brothels — accompanied by a male colleague, Chege aka, the Lion of Kinoo. I had to pay the madam Sh50 and buy her two beers to allow her to operate.

Flickering lights, loud Ohangla music, and posters of popular strippers and footballers welcome visitors.

This brothel is one of the many mediocre premises in Nairobi’s CBD/river road and environs.

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Stanley Atavachi SCPC Central Police Station, said, “I am not  aware of brothels in the CBD.”

He told the told us,

These are licensed premises, lodgings and can be used for sex. Anybody can go there anywhere anytime.

He admitted that streetwalkers are arrested if they have evidence.

At a brothel on River Road, sex workers hang out and leer at their clients.

“Hi. I like you, can I have a shot for Sh200?” Steve, a man I later learnt was a landlord in Kasarani, said to me. I asked for Sh500, which he said was too much.

I met another client, an officer at Lang’ata Barracks, who said he fell head over heels in love seeing me, pecking and groping me.

He said,

Can I marry you for a day? Please save your contact as John on my phone so that my wife won’t know if I’m cheating. Meet me at the barracks on Saturday afternoon. I will pay for your taxi and buy you alcohol as much as you can take.

In that one brothel, I got several offers from 13 men before leaving for the next three brothels. I visited an uptown brothel in Nairobi’s Kilimani area and here, things were different.

To enrol as an escort, I was given tough conditions.

The manager of the brothel told me,

You have to take semi-nude photos to be used on our website, provide your personal identification card and HIV test results. 

‘Dating’ apps have made it easy for sex workers to find customers and for customers to find sex workers. Many have accounts on different sites.

I met my mzungu husband on Afro and never looked back,” Hannah, a tall slender and dark 37-year-old said.

“I had been on a certain dating site for three years and met bad men before. Conmen and womanisers. At first, when he told me he was coming to Kenya I thought he was joking but later, I realised he meant it,” she said.

He met her family and they love him despite being 61 years. He’s the best thing that happened to me,” Hannah (not her real name) said.

Digital prostitution is booming business and Penninah Mwangi, the director of the Bar Hostesses and Empowerment Programme (BHESP) said

It’s the greatest challenge for us as programmers because we’re working with street workers but now it is a new digital ball game.

Penninah said it’s high time the government does something.

Prostitution should be decriminalised. This would mean the law is silent and sex workers are not arrested. If we legalise it there are policies such as registering a business, paying taxes, conducting themselves in certain ways. It will just be another matatu for policemen to extort.

Some of the sex workers said that police often ask for bribes and sex to avoid arrest.

Stanley Atavachi, the SCPC Central Police Station said,  “Police extortion is a common saying in the public domain. I’m not aware of any police officer doing that“.

“Raids are conducted under the supervision of a senior officer,” he said. “Maybe some go alone without our knowledge but if found we always take stern action against them,” Atavachi added.

He said no prostitution cases have recently been reported at Central Police Station.

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A watchman at one of the brothels said most women return even after scoring themselves sponsors because they eventually get dumped.

Most waste money on partying, traveling for holidays, buying designer clothes and bags, expensive phones and once the sponsors pull out, they have nothing left,” he said.

Onesmus (not his real name), a security guard at an apartment in Kilimani has seen it all. From women being locked out of houses to going back to humble life after sponsors abandon them for someone else.

Most women can’t pay rent. They end up being chased by landlords and their valuables confiscated for auctioning.  Of late, the landlord has introduced new rules, whereby one has to produce three payslips and four monthly bank statements just to verify that they are capable of paying rent,” he said. 

Penninah supports digital prostitution.

“There’s nothing wrong with sex workers meeting their partners online, even marriage partners meet online.”

She added, “Technology has provided opportunities for many women. Privacy has improved and it’s a great move for sex workers. It’s here to stay but I don’t encourage child prostitution and trafficking.”

Brothel manager

42-year-old Shiko (not her real name) has been managing a brothel in Nairobi’s River Road and said business is booming especially with the introduction of counties. She isn’t intimidated by digital prostitution.

“I’ve been working here for the last three years and I wouldn’t exchange this job for anything. Hii kazi huwezi kosa pesa,” she said

She isn’t against digital prostitution but said that it’s better to get a woman from the streets or brothels other than online.

“You might hook up with a woman online and after meeting in person, you will be disappointed. Some end up being scammers, some are gay, some are transgender. All that glitters is not gold,” she said.

Shiko said, “We bribe the police so that they let us keep operating 24/7.”