Transgender Sex Workers Face Abuse In Ivory Coast

Abidjan Ivory Coast — It seemed like a case of simple blackmail. Late one night last month, two cars carrying around 10 soldiers pulled up to a group of prostitutes in Abidjan’s Vallon neighborhood and began demanding bribes.
To save themselves, some of the women in the group approached the soldiers and told them what they knew would divert their attention: They pointed to a sex worker cowering among them who goes by the street name of Raissa. And they sold her out.

The soldiers cornered her, stripped her and discovered her secret: Raissa, who requested that her real name not be used out of fear for her safety, is not a woman at all, but rather a man dressed as one. They savagely beat her with their belts.

Such scenes have become routine since the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast assumed control of Abidjan in April 2011 at the end of a five-month conflict to oust ex-President Laurent Gbagbo and install his elected successor, Alassane Ouattara.

In interviews with The Associated Press, five victims and activists say transgender sex workers have been regularly stripped and beaten. In the most extreme case, those dressed as women who were discovered to be men were held overnight at military camps and raped with Kalashnikov rifles, they say. Others charge their heads were shaved with broken beer bottles.

Raissa said she has endured three attacks during which she’s been stripped, beaten and forced to beg for her life as soldiers threatened to shoot her.

“With the rage that’s in their eyes, you never know when they’ll stop,” she said.

“It’s hard to talk about the first time or the second time because it’s just happened so many times,” said a transgender sex worker who goes by the street name, Sara. “No one has escaped the army.”

Unlike many West African countries, homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed in Ivory Coast, though committing an “outrage against public decency” with a same-sex partner is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines starting at $100. But victims say entrenched homophobia at all levels of the security forces left them with no outlet for filing complaints.

by Robbie Corey-Boulet
Source – Huffington Post