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THE AGONY OF SEXUAL EXPLOITATION IN KENYA’S MEDIA INDUSTRY

Sexual harrassmentBy Winnie Kabintie

Many young girls dream of making it in Kenya’s media/entertainment industry but very few do, not because they lack the requisite skills but because most graduates who attempt end up frustrated by sexual predators at the market place entry level, who blatantly demand for sex in exchange of opportunities.

Therefore not unless you’re already an established personality or you know someone, who knows someone who can pull the strings, then you’ll always in for a big surprise.

Sex for jobs is a widespread vice across the globe and in Kenya; it’s not just limited to the media/entertainment industry only that it’s more rampant in the sectors compared to the rest. A study done in Ghana on “sex for jobs” also revealed that the vice is more widespread in the county’s media industry compared to the other sectors.

SEX FOR ACTING ROLES

In Hollywood, there have also been reports suggesting that the issue of sexual predators especially targeting children star wannabes is rampant.

In a documentary titled “open secrets” Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg, reveals how reknown Hollywood professionals use their positions of power and influence to sexually abuse and exploit underage actors.

“The documentary creates a stark and sobering portrait of a loose network of Hollywood professionals — some outsize personalities like Collins-Rector, others Hollywood insiders with far smaller profiles — who use their positions of power and influence to sexually abuse and exploit underage (in the film’s case, male) actors whose nascent careers they’re supposed to be supporting.”

In Kenya’s film industry, sex for acting roles, popularly known as “casting couch” is also rampant.

MY ENCOUNTER

I have had the privilege of operating in both the media and entertainment industries particularly the film sector but so far I have encountered two sexual predators and all of them have been in the media industry. I had my first encounter in my final year in media school when I was looking for internship but this one, the then PR manager at one of the leading media houses was creative in his scheme, he was operating “chini ya maji” (he was subtle) as Kenyans commonly say, he never blatantly barked it out but he physically tried to make his agenda known and when he realized that I was not being receptive, that was the last I heard of him.

My most interesting encounter though is my most recent, occurred just a week ago, Thursday the 31st to be precise. I got a call back from this  TV station after a screen test  I had attended two weeks ago .

I was so excited when they called me back; finally my dream to host my own TV show was coming to birth. The lady on the other side of the call told me that I am scheduled for a meeting with the production manager the following morning at 9 am.

I asked her to make it at 10am and she said she would check with the PM and revert, she did and 10am it was. I could barely sleep that day, I made calls to my friends to research on the current market rates for TV hosts, pressed my lovely burgundy body corn midi dress and laid it out in preparation for my big day and  said a prayer before I called it a night.

The day finally came, I was ecstatic, I smiled all the way from my shower to the station’s offices, I was happy with the achievement, I felt so determined, I mean I got a call back! This was like my “chicken gate” if , my “NYS ” I had really worked hard for it and my efforts were showing indications of bearing fruit, better still my boyfriend let me drive his Subaru to the meeting ;-).

Schools were closing for the April holidays so there was no traffic, i stepped on the subaru and hit the road like a boss, got to the premises an hour before and had to while away the time at the parking lot before I confidently sashayed to the reception.

“Hi, my name is Winnie, I have an appointment with Lucy* at 10am is she in?” I said.

“Hi, yes she is, kindly have a seat and I’ll let her know you’re here,” she politely answered. I had met the receptionist on the day I went for the screen test and she was friendly.

She came back after 5 minutes and told me that I was going to meet their MD instead and went ahead to direct me to his office.

“Well, the MD! this is huge!I must have really impressed them”, I thought to myself as I took the stairs to the big office.

“Are you a Ruto or a Kalonzo?”

He was friendly, we engaged for some time as he asked me questions related to the job and all seemed to be going on well for me. To cut the long story short as we came to the conclusion of the meeting he said something that cast a dark shadow to all the determination I was feeling that day.

“You know Winnie, I’ll be honest with you, this is a competitive job, you’re good, you have what it takes and the show you hosted during the screen-test was really impressive, but am spoilt for choice, I have two more equally talented ladies, so this is where you engage some “survival tactics” in order to clinch the opportunity,” he said.

I feigned ignorance to his remarks and went ahead to list down a number of additional skills that I possess that would set me apart from the alleged pack but he cut me short;

“you know that’s exactly what all these other girls will say when I call them here, so give me more than that,” he said as he asked me to move across to his desk so that he could show me some clips of the ladies he was talking about.

“I see you are a go getter; in politics there’s a Ruto and there’s a Kalonzo; the later has ambition but always watches things happen because he plays by the rules but the former is more ambitious makes things happen because he doesn’t play by any rules, if he needs to chop someone’s head to get what he wants, he does it. So who are you?  A Ruto or a Kalonzo? Show me!!”

I have never felt so helpless in my life; a pale cloud had now covered my usually bright face, I felt dissolutioned.

“Noo! This is not happening” I told myself, it honestly felt like a dream, a bad one for that matter.

I looked at the man seated in front of me, by then he was smiling so sheepishly and I felt disgusted, exploited and disrespected by someone who on a normal day is supposed to hold my hand and walk with me in my career as he would to a daughter.

“Just how could he! Someone his size(he was huge), age! Just how could he get the audacity to do that!” I wondered! and even before I could fully come to terms with the reality of the situation he interrupted me;

You see all these women in media and you think they had it easy! They didn’t! the truth is that you don’t know what they did to get where they are and no one cares really, all that matters is where they are now,” he shamelessly said.

“Well, evidently I have proved that I have the talent, that’s why your team shortlisted me and e the only survival tactic that I can engage is talk my way out, which I have done but it seems as though there’s more than it meets the eye so with all due respect am sorry but I don’t think I have anything else to offer, I beg to leave,” I said and before I could finish the statement he told me not to be quick to rush in a decision, I take my time he wasn’t rushing me.

I rose from my seat, thanked him for the opportunity and walked out. On a normal day am this person that will raise a storm,a hell of a storm for that matter and especially because I’ve always been vocal about matters sexual abuse but a wise woman knows which battles to fight so I chose to maintain my cool and stay meek on this one.

I knew I was better than that, i am a strong personality , i was not going to exchange horizontal favours to achieve my goals and the fact that this sexual predator had reduced me to a sex object was demeaning. What i was being asked to do went against the values instilled in me; by my mother and my spiritual authorities, hell no, i was not going to stoop so low.

The satisfaction that comes with success for me is knowing that I put my effort in something and it bore fruits, that am so good at what i do that it has opened doors for me,and it has over the years! what fulfillment would I get knowing that I landed a job because it was  ‘sexually transmitted’, and not by merit! No there is no way I would do it, not now not ever.

My case is definitely not isolated; it’s the sad reality that majority of women have to contend with.

#MeToo

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