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Sex in the Mother City

A new book reveals that contrary to popular belief most of Cape Town’s prostitutes are not victims of human trafficking and that there are hardly any child prostitutes in the city.

Selling Sex in Cape Town — Sex Work and Human Trafficking in a South African City, written by the Institute for Security Studies’ Chandre Gould in collaboration with Nicole Fick of the prostitutes’ lobby group, Sweat, also reveals that there are only about 1 000 prostitutes in the city.

Said Gould: ”We were surprised to find that there is very little trafficking into the sex business.

”The finding is likely to cause controversy because an enormous amount of donor money is available, specifically for projects that counter trafficking, so organisations working in this area potentially stand to lose funding.”

Molo Songololo, the Cape-based children’s organisation, and the International Organisation for Migration have argued that trafficking for sex is a major problem throughout Southern Africa.

Gould said the researchers also found that sex workers are not ”victims who are in this industry waiting to be rescued”.

”We found that people enter the sex work industry for rational reasons, primarily because it offers better earning prospects and greater flexibility than other available opportunities,” she said.

Sex work provides cash in hand in place of a month-long wait for a salary. The majority of sex workers do not do the work because they enjoy it — although a small number do — and would prefer alternative work if it offered the same returns and flexibility.

”We found that few sex workers do not consider themselves victims of anything more than circumstances,” Gould said.

Researchers found that a woman or man with only high school education is likely to earn an average of R1 279 in a formal job, but R3 587 in sex work.

Brothel-based and self-employed sex workers earn far more than those who work on the street. The average monthly income for a street-based sex worker is about R2 700 while brothel-based women average R10 186 a month.

Choosing prostitution over domestic employment is therefore a rational choice, Gould and Fick found.

The authors also failed a find a single prostitute who said she was forced by unscrupulous pimps to sell sex against her will.

”No street-based worker replied that she had ever been forced to sell sex and all said that they could have left the work had they chosen to.

”Most street-based workers — 69% — said they did not know of anyone who had been being forced into prostitution. Those who knew of others being forced to sell sex said the pressure had come from their boyfriends or from drug addiction.

”Eighty-one percent of indoor sex workers said they were not forced to do this work,” said Gould. ”The other 19% said they were forced by circumstances — because they couldn’t find other work and needed money. Based on this evidence we can conclude that deception and force is not a significant feature of the sex work industry in Cape Town.”

However, Gould said the underground nature of the sex industry gave employers space to engage in unacceptable labour practices.

”We discovered a continuum of exploitation and abuse of which trafficking was the extreme end. The ‘victims’ in this continuum are not passive: they are simply people who have had to make extreme and unpopular decisions in an effort to change their financial circumstances.”

She recommended the decriminalisation and regulation of this industry. ”We urge the government to remove all the laws that make the sale of sex by consenting adults a crime.”

Street life
Black women prostitutes working the Stellenbosch Road leading out of Cape Town told the Mail & Guardian they earn about R2 000 a month working five to seven days a week, in 10- to 12-hour shifts.

When 27-year-old Vuyokazi’s husband died in 2006 she had no income and faced starvation. She sent her three-year-old daughter to her mother in the Eastern Cape and, after some months searching for unskilled work in the city, she and her cousin moved to the streets.

”It’s terrible work; I’m terrified of each and every client. Each time a car stops, my heart starts beating faster and I have to think hard not to turn and run. After two years of doing this job, I’m no less scared. Men are so very dangerous,” she said.

In a good month she makes R2 000. During the winter months business is generally slower and she makes between R300 and R1 500.

Vuyokazi says she was raped ”by a black client” after a couple of weeks on the road and is now HIV-positive.

”Coloured men are the worst clients because they hate you once they’ve had sex with you. They’re abusive and call you names.

”Black men are very rough and they hurt you. The whites are nice — they’re gentle, but don’t look you in the eyes,” Vuyokazi said.

According to Chandre Gould’s book, Selling Sex in Cape Town, Vuyokazi is one of Cape Town’s 250 outdoor prostitutes.

Thirty-one percent of the city’s sex workers are black women, 54% are coloured, 14% white and 1% Indian.
Because the job is so dangerous, Vuyokazi works only during the day.

She says she is robbed by tsotsis (thieves) every few months and has been picked up by police ”I can’t remember how many times”.

She has never been charged, saying she pays a R100 bribe each time she is arrested. ”If you don’t have R50 or R100 they lock you up for the weekend and then release you on the Monday morning without laying charges.”

Gould found that 47% of street-based sex workers have experienced physical abuse or violence, or have been asked for bribes by policemen.

”Our survey found that 12% have been forced to have sex with police officers — in other words raped — and that 28% of sex workers have been asked for sex by policemen in exchange for release from custody.

”They are already vulnerable to abuse by clients and other third parties and are made even more vulnerable by the police,” Gould said.

Vuyokazi said she wants to get out of the sex trade because ”otherwise I might die on that road”.

”Since I started working the roads I don’t like myself any more. I’m not feeling good about myself and about my life and what I’m doing.

”I’m ashamed. I want somebody to show me another way of earning an income.”

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