No good in legalising prostitution

2008-08-19 00:00

That prostitution has always been criminalised proved to me that patriarchy is still the sole ruler of South Africa. Prostitution is here to stay, right? Should these women not be empowered to access health care, security from the police and given the chance to live without the burden of a lifelong stigma attached to them?

But recently as a friend and I drove out of a well-known club in Soweto, he nonchalantly pointed out to me that “those girls over there are ‘selling’ and sometimes one of my boys comes to pick them up”. I felt sick.

In my pretty little head, sex workers should be taken care of by loving madams who let them keep the bulk of their earnings while they enjoy the benefits of medical aid. The reality is that the majority are not. Or at least not according to Nthabi (we don’t believe it’s her real name), a girl who I begged my friend to pick up so she could satisfy my curiosity.

“Even if ‘this’ was not illegal anymore I would not feel better about doing it. I still would not be proud to tell my mother and friends, I would not feel safer when walking the streets at night and I don’t think the police would treat me any better if I were to report an assault, robbery or rape. My pimp would certainly not be more lenient,” Nthabi snapped when we asked for her thoughts on legalising sex work.

It began to dawn on me that I, like most of my liberal peers, have little understanding of the reasons many girls enter the ever-thriving sex industry. We usually work on the assumption that because men have little or no control over their sexual urges and that should these urges go unsatisfied, a man could resort to rape; so prostitution is a necessary industry in society.

Very little thought goes into the feelings of responsible men who only choose to exercise their sexuality in a loving relationship or at the very least with another consenting adult. They must feel deeply offended by these notions.

I was also convinced of the premise that the law would protect women and that the sex industry would be rid of illegal drugs and be on the look-out for underage children.

“The nature of my work makes me vulnerable to assault and rape. A lot of girls who come [to the streets] do it out of desperation. I would never encourage young girls to make a living this way. I think our government should be concentrating on enabling poor women to find other ways to make a living. There is nothing good about being a prostitute and selling your body. It robs you of your humanity.”

Nthabi believes the only way out of her torment is if she were to get a bursary so she could go to university. “But I think I have a long way to go. If there is talk about legalising prostitution, I will have a lot of customers who think they have the government’s endorsement to be with me.”

She then charged us R100 for cutting into her working time.

— News24

• Nozipho Masabalala is a 20-something Johannesburg-based writer, currently working in public relations.

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