Would You Play a Game of Russian Roulette?

Hello people,

My name is Caroline Achieng Otieno, and I am a guest blogger at the Displaced African, and a regular contributor to The African Bulletin – www.mediablackberry.com. Having lived in the Netherlands for the past seven years, and experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly, I must say that I have observed a lot going on in Europe. I feel sad for the many Africans, who escape war and other tragic situations, come into Europe through very difficult means (some even trekking the desert through Northern Africa) and when they get here, they face other hurdles in trying to build an existence for themselves and their families back home. What hurts the most is that the system set in place makes our African sisters do things they would not ordinarily do, just because of their legal status or the lack of it thereof. The following article is another version of the article I wrote for African Bulletin in the April issue, feedback is welcome…

Supposing you were in Russia, it’s war-time, early 20th century. You are an aristocrat soldier and you are with your soldier friends. Feeling the loss of your status, money, family and country; you play a lethal game, perhaps to display bravado, perhaps you want to commit suicide. You spin the cylinder of a revolver so that the location of the cartridge is not known. You point the revolver to your head and pull the trigger. Bang! Well, probably you live, and unharmed and admired you walk away, or you die, and that’s the end, it’s final.

While many Africans living in Europe would not dare play the game of Russian roulette, no matter how much money they were offered, many are caught up in a riskier form of a similar game. There are few chances here; it is a ‘no-win’ situation. Young undocumented Africans, eking out a living in the big cities of Europe, find themselves alone in a foreign land. Many gamble with high risk sex, playing a game of ‘Russian roulette’ as it were. For the young African woman especially, illegality is a challenge. She is placed in a very vulnerable position. She may view being undocumented as having ‘no rights, no shelter, no access to medical care, no money, no food, no peace.’ If she is not well informed or protected, she falls into the trap of selling her body. In the big European cities, female migrants are caught up in a fast growing endemic of promiscuity, for no other reason than being illegal. On one hand, these may be women who are fleeing dangerous situations in their countries, where men have raped women as a weapon of war. Others have undergone traumatic and often brutal genital mutilations. Yet when these same women arrive in Europe, only to find their applications to stay in the country rejected, and out on the streets, the harsh reality begins to set in and sex becomes a strategy for survival.

Research done by SOA-Aids Netherlands in October 2006 among the heterosexual Black community, established that sex was used as a ‘salient exchange commodity’ by women. Men gave them money, and women in return took care of all their needs. When money begins to flow and the women are past survival, they find themselves at a point of no return and trapped in a life on the fast lane. Free-lance writer Zack Bigalke from Portland, Oregon writes, “Women, smarter than ever, have learned that their bodies are money-generating machines which can easily draw much larger pay-checks than most other jobs.” And that is the main problem, sex does sell, and many African migrant women get addicted to the business of having myriads of sexual partners.

There’s a mysterious pull to hang in there.

Probably it’s the bad company, or the lack of social skills, or the low-level of education coupled with the rush to make big bucks quick. Friends encourage some to join them, stating the fact that money comes easy in the business. Ultimately, there’s the attraction of the ‘invincible’ Euro, the demands of relatives back home, and the desire to mirror the lifestyles, the dress and the mannerisms of the of the characters played out by the beautiful West African actresses of Nollywood; keeping up with the latest designer fashions, smelling like a queen, and owning the latest gizmos at the drop of a hat.

There are risks involved, the risk of pregnancy and the greatest risk of all, that of catching a Sexually Transmitted Infection (S.T.I).

Let’s admit it, most men initiate and control sex, paying for it with their greater wealth.

However many women bear the burden of the consequences of sex. Due to the fact that a woman’s body is well structured to receive, a woman is eight times more likely to become infected from a single sexual act with an infected man than a man is likely to become infected from a single sexual act with an infected woman.

Not only is the likelihood for infection for women greater, but also infection can be present in and spread by them when they do not have any symptoms of the disease. The disease becomes a silent killer.

A breakdown of the most common S.T.I’s follows:

Gonorrhoea is one of the oldest known S.T.I’s. However, like the condition Chlamydia, most women who are infected by the disease frequently have no symptoms of it, especially in the early stages. Both of these diseases, left untreated destroy the Fallopian tubes and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (P.I.D). This can lead to ectopic pregnancies or infertility. Another well-known S.T.I is Syphilis. It operates in stages, which can be in gaps over a period of many years. The last stage of Syphilis is most fatal. It can cause problems throughout the human body such as heart abnormalities; brain malfunctions leading to stroke, meningitis, deafness or blindness. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV), another S.T.I has long been known to be a cause of cervical cancer. Infection with the Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens the body’s immune system and increases vulnerability to many different infections. HIV at its’ final stage is referred to as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS, when full-blown, many infections overwhelm the body and this results to death. Treatment options exist for HIV-infected people that reduce the multiplication of the virus in their bodies thus delaying the progress of the disease to the final stage, which causes death.

Solutions are quickly needed.

Condoms may be useful in decreasing the spread of infections such as Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, but should be noted that they do not fully protect against infections such as genital herpes, HPV, syphilis and AIDS. Public awareness and education about STI’s and methods of preventing them is imperative.

African migrant women should be empowered and educated about their sexual health and reproductive rights. There is the need to practise good social skills that include the ability to negotiate safe sex, a better understanding on the working of their bodies and the risks of a promiscuous lifestyle.

Global agencies, international policy makers, African leaders and civil societies should push to make education for the Girl-Child in Africa free at all levels; such an action would encourage society in Africa to send their female children to school. Migrant churches and faith-based organizations in Europe need to address sexuality and behaviour change among both men and women.

It is my prayer that the article has helped someone in some way or another,




  • By Pink M, September 12, 2008 @ 2:38 am

    Kenya is a great country compared to many African countries and I sincerely pity women who give up all this abundance to go be sex slaves in the West. Sure we don’t have it all here, and we have to struggle, but isn’t it better to be a begger in one’s home than a sex worker in a foreign country?

    Circumstances are different for each case, I know, but have these women tried everything back home and failed?

  • By Carol A.Otieno, September 12, 2008 @ 5:20 am

    Hi Pinky,

    I totally agree with you, being out here as a Kenyan has made me have a greater appreciation of my country. Kenyans out here may be a lot of things, but personally I have never met a Kenyan who was into prostitution or stuff like that.
    The select group of women who are into prostitution are mainly from problematic African countries and as well they are not enlightened. Going back home for them is simply not an option. The combination of the factors I mentioned above coupled with their mind-sets make them even proud to be prostitutes, giving the reason for this as that they are beautiful. The folks back in their home countries are just delighted that mega-bucks are being sent to them, and they are unaware of the means or the risks of attaining the money. A big solution would be the free education of girl-children, as education totally changes one’s perspective,


  • By acolyte, September 13, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

    This is completely off track but I ran into it and had to respond. It was a comment you made at midnight mugithi

    “I have almost never heard of a mentally and physically happy and healthy prostitute. I have looked and looked and looked, I haven’t found them.
    In Japan, prostitutes use drugs and go to host clubs to get lied to and flattered by hosts (btw should you have the means watch the movie “The Great Happiness Space -Tale of an Osaka Love Thief”-Japanese are amazing)
    Throughout the West they are always in and out of jail and use drugs like they are going out of style.
    I think the mental aspects of prostitution should definitely be weighed and evaluated, even above the money, when deciding about how to react to prostitution.”

    I have met physically and mentally well adjusted prostitutes, okay they were escorts but that is the same thing; they sell sex at the end of the day. A woman’s level of clientele and approach to the trade will define her condition at the end of the day. One who approaches it as a business, chooses her clientele and when she can work will have less issues then the women you ran into whom I suspect were street walkers who often pull the short straw of the trade.

    Plus I have noticed often that you traffic in absolutes. Just because you can’t establish something doesn’t mean it doesnt exist esp if your research and methodology methods are far from absolute.

    Have a nice day.

    ps: “African migrant women should be empowered and educated about their sexual health and reproductive rights. There is the need to practise good social skills that include the ability to negotiate safe sex, a better understanding on the working of their bodies and the risks of a promiscuous lifestyle.

    Global agencies, international policy makers, African leaders and civil societies should push to make education for the Girl-Child in Africa free at all levels

    Alot of the women you are talking about in your post are illegal immigrants, no government is going to sanction an international body to come and help criminals live a better life in their country when they are not meant to be there in the first place. Plus what about migrant men, don’t they have sex with migrant women? Any classes for them?


  • By Carol A.Otieno, September 13, 2008 @ 11:41 pm

    Hi Acolyte,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Here in the Netherlands, prostitution is a recognized profession. However, this is specifically in the Red light district where the women have insurance, have security (at their place of work) and constantly go for medical check-ups to ascertain that they are free from diseases, and do not have unprotected sex (according to what I hear).
    The select group that my article refers to are those who do all things that prostitutes do, but are in denial about it. They have sex with different men, some of whom they know but some of whom are strangers, one-night cash stand (a phone number passed on by a ’so-called client.’ These have no security. Personally, I don’t know whether they use condoms, but some have shared that there have been slip-ups, I know of some who have shared that they perform oral sex etc. What is worrying is that these ladies don’t go for regular check-ups as their counterparts in the Red Light district do, so there’s a big risk that they are unknowingly spreading infections.
    The select group are avid church goers, and I believe that if anyone can reach them with messages on health care, it is the faith-based organizations and churches. A huge mind-set change is required, it really is ‘work-in-progress’. Most African women need a renewal of the mind, and as well have to learn the social skills to practise safe sex, perhaps they lack this due to the fact that many of the cultures we come from are so partriachal in nature. A woman has to insist on the man she’s having sex with wear a condom, many women do not have this ability to insist, if they bring their own condoms it’s like taboo.
    As for migrant men, the churches too should be able to reach them because at the end of the day if they are bachelors and want to get married, they chose someone back in Africa instead of the ones here with whom they are having sex with.
    The European goverments should pay attention because when many of their laws state that there should be provision of medical care for people whether or not they are documented. Alot of taxpayers money goes to foot the bills of medical conditions that can be prevented. There are indeed some sexually transmitted diseases that are a global concern, so the issue of illegality comes second place to global health concerns.


  • By Mwangi - the Displaced African, September 14, 2008 @ 1:07 am

    @acolyte: I would love to meet them, study them or watch them to learn how they manage to maintain mentally and emotionally healthy and distance themselves from the sexuality of their job. I would imagine this would be extremely difficult to do, especially in the beginning……
    Here I definitely will concede I am very short on research or even superficial knowledge and was going on information from the movie and talks with an American woman who counsels prostitutes.

  • By acolyte, September 14, 2008 @ 8:58 am

    @ Carol
    Sorry for attributing Mwangi’s comment to you.

    Call this callous but most women do the same thing as prostitutes but are in denial about it, and no I am not calling most women prostitutes. How many women do you know who sleep with men who have money that pay their rent? How many women will only see a man as worth dating only if they spend some money on them and get them gifts? Most male/female relationships are a give and take transaction. The only difference is that in open relationship the woman is able to take gifts/money and attention from all bidders without being under the obligation to provide what the male wants while when it comes to real prostitution the highest bidder wins by default and the woman can only get benefits from him.

    But the women you are talking about for all intents and purposes are prostitutes they offer their services for money under no pretext whatsoever. Women can only assert their rights when bargaining from a point of power, the women you talk of can only do so once they are empowered economically. As long as they to depend on men for their needs there is not much they can do.

    Plus not only because of the sex thing but even migrant women who are settled and “pure” don’t have too much luck with migrant men because let’s keep it real, women once they get to an alien culture change too fast for their own good. You have alot of African women out here in the States embracing the “independence” of women here not factoring in that it’s part of why you have a 50% divorce rate. That is another reason why migrant men would rather get a wife from back home in many cases.

    @ Mwangi
    Well at the risk of sounding harsh but I doubt a woman who counsels prostitutes would give you any positive cases because by the time a prostitute is going for counseling she is having many issues in her life and with the profession.
    But I am in no way shape or form saying that there are no unhappy and damaged women out there working as prostitutes; indeed there are.
    I did point out that there are different levels of prostitution and one’s level and the fact if they are doing it out of choice or necessity will play a role in how they feel about the trade.

  • By Mwangi - the Displaced African, September 14, 2008 @ 11:09 am

    @aco: You just might be right there. Wish I had anything insightful to add, but as I said, I am ignorant, so I guess I’ll just add you to my database on knowledge I have about women who are prostitutes.
    By the way, these women who you knew who were prostitutes, were they African women in the diaspora? African women at home? White women? Philipino women or what nationality were they and in which country did they work?

  • By acolyte, September 15, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

    @ Mwangi
    my usual disclaimer: In no way shape or form am I promoting prostitution.

    That being said one of my previous employers in Kenya had a project that used to help rehabilitate prostitutes and make the self sustaining so that they could leave the trade. Well shock on us, there were some of those girls who would leave the rehab and go back to the streets. I even used to hear some of them talking about it.
    I have met some Kenyan women who via travel agencies in Europe were usually hooked up with white men to show them around in more ways than one and they loved their jobs to a fault. Of course this latter group were more of escorts than prostitutes, they never had to hunt for clients or step on the streets and could pick who they would escort or not.

    That is why you shall always get a group of women who advocate for being let to practice the trade, they know what they are doing and what they are gaining.

  • By Mwangi, September 16, 2008 @ 6:40 pm

    @acolyte: Just so I can see if I have the correct image in my head of who those women tend to be and where they tend to come from. Do they tend to be middle to lower income women who previously worked in the service industry as hairdressers or bartenders or waitresses? Do these women come from various socioeconomic levels?

  • By acolyte, September 17, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

    @ Mwangi
    You really cant type cast prostitutes and escorts in Kenya to be honest ie “those women”. They are all unique and have different circumstances that put them where they are.
    There are those who have been forced into it by family and poverty ie those who live in the slums. You have those women who came to Nai from the rural areas thinking they would make money easily but we all know that Nai doesnt give you anything on a platter so when push came to shove they found themselves walking the streets. You have those women whose mothers and sisters were prostitutes and for them its nothing strange.
    You have the women who work office jobs but are paid a pittance and supplement their money by working the streets. You have those who also have day jobs but are smart enough to work in high class bordellos by night, or even those who are middle class and do it full time. There is also a small minority who even do it for the thrill, a friend of mine had a relative like that who came from a well of family and chose to be a high class prostitute for some reason.
    So you can’t typecast the prostitute, I once met an escort with a college degree. I know its different in Kenya but here in the States street walkers are actually a minority of them even though they are the most common image you see.
    You might want to take a look at this http://www.nodo50.org/Laura_Agustin/unwanted-rescues-a-poster-from-thailand
    Not every prostitute needs or wants to be rescued.

  • By Mwangi - the Displaced African, September 17, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

    @acolyte: Hmmmm, something to think about……..

  • By JAGCorps, September 19, 2008 @ 1:23 am

    HI Caroline,

    You may find the following interesting, Is an Ethical, Emotional, Psychological and Military Reputation based on Honour?

    It’s an actual real life challenge of Russian Roullette, sent via legal advocates, and deals with some of the issues you raise here, but in much more depth.

    It’s not just talking about an abstract form of Russian Roullette, it is actually talking about two people challenging a corrupt goverment, to playing real Russian Roullette with real guns, infront of a real audience, for justice to be served.

  • By Nairobian Perspective, September 19, 2008 @ 9:33 pm

    You have an interesting conversation here! its unfortunate for whatever reason for one to sell his body/self in exchange for money or other favors.The reality is that the consequences are grave for the person, their reputation and ends up hurting their loved ones!It takes great effort to rehabilitate such a person but a true solution lies not in any other conceivable human reasoning but desisting from the practice and avoiding risk factors that may occasion a relapse!One cannot place a value to a clean conscience (by clean i preclude a dead conscience) it either accuses us or excuses us!

  • By Carol A.Otieno, September 19, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

    To JAGCorps and Nairobian Perspective,

    Thanks for the comments and inputs, JAGCorps, I will definately look up the website,

    Much appreciate it,

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