Sex worker organisations and other human rights groups have condemned the arrest and violent mistreatment of women by police, who arrested more than 100 women at nightclubs in Abuja last week. It has been reported the women were arrested under sex work laws, although many of the women deny being sex workers. The treatment of the women, including harassment, and physical and sexual assault, has been condemned by both sex worker groups and broader women’s and human rights organisations in the country.
Nigeria Sex Workers Association report that at least 70 sex workers were arrested, and that sex worker activists have supported the women by providing a lawyer to secure their release on bail. NSWA held a press conference on Friday 3rd May providing information on the arrests and detailing the women’s abuse at the hands of the police. The women report suffering beatings (many women with visible bruising), sexual assault including rape, and harassment within the club leading to the arrests. NSWA say they are working with human rights activists in the country to challenge future abuse from the police.
In a statement, a coalition of 75 women’s rights and human rights organisations (including Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response (PITCH) and Amnesty International Nigeria), said:
“The agents appeared to be specifically targeting women… Women were brutally dragged out by male officers who beat them, and some women were stripped naked… The violence inflicted on these women was vicious and targeted. They suffered this treatment because they were women and these officers were confident that they can get away with it.”
They go on to say:
“The continued harassment of women by the FCT joint task force should stop immediately as it constitutes gender discrimination, a violation of human rights, is unlawful, unconstitutional and carried out with total disregard for the rule of law.”
The Assistant Commissioner of Police in Nigeria, Abayomi Shogunle, said on Twitter that “prostitution is a crime under the law” in Nigeria and considered to be “a sin under the 2 main religions” in the region. In light of his comments, a petition has been launched by human rights activist Segun Awosanya calling for the removal from his position in the Police Public Complaint Response Unit, and has reached nearly 7,000 signatures. In further tweets, Shogunle reported the Social Welfare Secretariat denies any abuse of the women arrested. Aside from this there has been no official response on behalf of the Police.