The death toll of prostitutes killed around Kigali since July now stands at 18.
The alarming number has propelled the Rwanda National Police (RNP) to set up a special team to carry out an in-depth investigation of the issue. The investigation, according to RNP's spokesperson Superintendent Theos Badege, has so far led to the arrest of eight suspects.
"But we are still investigating to see if anyone among the suspects is really a murderer. There are those who admit to have killed a prostitute, but when we probe deeper, they cannot answer or show us the places they allegedly killed the prostitutes from. Which means that they are hiding something," Badege told The Rwanda Focus recently.
According to Badege, the case is more complex than the force anticipated. "At all times, there have been cases of prostitutes stealing money from their clients or contaminating them with sexually transmissible diseases, but the issue here is: why the reaction now? Why did all these guys decide to 'revenge' at the same time? Someone must be behind this," Badege remarked. "These women were killed in a same period, in similar circumstances and almost all of them were strangled. That shows that this is not a common crime."
In September, Badege also admitted that the murders were rare and strange. "It has become a great security concern," Badege said at the time, when there were 15 known cases of prostitutes murdered in the months of August and July.
This was after Clementine Uwimbabazi, a prostitute was found dead on August 29 in her house in Nyagatovu cell, Kimironko. The message 'I will stop once I have killed 400 prostitutes' was carved in her belly.
"It looked like the murderer had used a knife to write it," one anonymous neighbor, claiming to have been among the first to have seen the body, then told The Rwanda Focus.
The most notorious case, happened on August 28, in Nyamabuye cell, Gatsata where three women were killed together in broad daylight.
Meanwhile, it has been established that there had actually been 18 murders. "Some cases had not been reported at the time," Badege said.
A recently published report by the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) estimates that there are a total of 15,792 professional prostitutes, with 51% of them HIV/AIDS positive. The study also revealed that there are 752 places countrywide where prostitutes operate.
Late last month, Rwanda's lawmakers called upon government leaders and Rwandans in general to sensitize sex workers about leaving the risky trade. "Those women and girls in the sex business are our sisters, relatives, colleagues and friends, we have to come up with strategies and mechanisms enabling them to leave this bad business," said the Senate President Jean-Damascene Ntawukuliryayo during the meeting.
Different surveys have found that poverty is the main factor that induces women and young girls' into prostitution. Other factors include illiteracy, peer influence, and dropping out of school.
Moreover, lawmakers recognized that prostitution is a cross-cutting challenge, which needs everyone's attention and intervention to be rooted out. Therefore, all Rwandans were encouraged to take part in addressing the issue.
Yet, some prostitutes who talked to The Rwanda Focus said they could only quit if they were in position to do something else.
"I have never been happy with being a prostitute, but there is no other way to survive," said 24-year-old Agnes Mukeshimana, adding that she would like to acquire entrepreneurial and vocational skills. "Then I would go for small-scale businesses," she noted.
She remarked that while she has never felt afraid of being killed by a customer, she is worried now since it looks like prostitutes are targeted. As for the reasons, she can only guess.
"I admit that sometimes we steal from our clients. But I don't believe that one can be killed for that," Mukeshimana remarked. "HIV contamination could be a reason, but then again, I know that most of us inform our clients beforehand about our condition. I also find it strange that some of our clients are so stupid and careless to have unprotected sex with us."
Her worries were echoed by 32-year-old Francois U., a prostitute who is HIV-positive, operating in Gikondo in an area appropriately called Sodoma. "I've been HIV-positive for the last five years. Everyone who sleeps with me knows that. I inform them in advance, and some walk away while others accept on condition that we have protected sex.
I know most of my colleagues do it that way. This is why I don't believe in the idea that contamination could be a reason for killing such a big number of our colleagues."