This article that I co-wrote was recently published in the RU Campus newspaper
The Oppidan Press
Edition 5, 9 May
By Lisa Brigham and Cara-Ann Carstens
A truck drives past and the driver makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it signal to the woman on the corner before driving up Hill Street. He parks in the shadows, 50 metres away from them. The woman runs up to the truck and climbs in. Evidently, prostitution is happening in Grahamstown.
However, when we interviewed Captain JV Naidoo of the Grahamstown Police Department, he was evasive on the subject of prostitution: "I do not agree or disagree that prostitution is happening in Grahamstown." Captain Naidoo stated that if there were complaints lodged, an investigation would be initiated but until then, the police will not take any action.
Sex work is a statutory offence, according to the 1957 Sexual Offences Act. A number of attempts to amend the law and to decriminalise sex work have occured since 1994. However, little real progress has been made and in 2006 the amendments that were made to the Act left the provisions on sex work intact.
A police vehicle slows at the robot but barely notices the sex workers standing nearby. It’s 7:30 by this stage and another woman, Beauty*, takes her place on the corner. Out of the shadows the original woman emerges, pants undone and hair askew. As she walks back to Beauty, it is obvious that she is under the influence and has just accommodated her first client. Beauty rummages through a nearby dustbin for tissue paper.
The street is quiet, so we call Beauty over by flapping a R10 note out the window. Within seconds she is in our car. She carries with her the distinct smell of tobacco and seems disorientated. Behind the shy face, we find a hopeless woman, trapped in the only business she knows.
The R10 we gave to her is the same amount that she charges for oral sex; a mere R10 more and it would be sexual intercourse. Beauty has no family – "no father, no brother, no sister" – and lives near Beaufort Street with her three children. She has been prostituting for the past two years, working most nights and stopping only after she has made at least R50.
Generally, she uses condoms but admits that her clients do not always comply with the rules of safe sex. Beauty cries as she tells us: "Yes, I have HIV." When asked how she feels about possibly giving the virus to her clients she is quiet in thought. "I don’t feel good," she says. She informs her clients of her status but some still insist on unprotected sex and she believes that this is how she got HIV. For some, R20 for sex is a bargain, but with the risk of contracting HIV, it might be an immediate death sentence.
Delia* is another sex worker who works the same corner as Beauty. She charges slightly more at R50 but takes a bigger risk by pleasing her clients and not using condoms. She says that ironically most of her clients are from a nearby church but they don’t only visit her; they also visit male sex workers. These sex workers work nearby and are also from the township. One can easily tell that Delia is a sex worker by what she is wearing; this is not the case with Beauty.
Beauty could be mistaken for a domestic worker from her apparel, so we were curious about her clientèle. Men of all ages and races – "black, white, 19, 69…", all approach her. We discover that Rhodes students regularly approach Beauty for her services. Even more surprisingly, Beauty tells us that she knows of student sex workers from Rhodes. The Oppidan Press has established that sex workers frequent local student hangouts such as SlipStream Sports Bar, Friar Tucks and Champs Action Bar.