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A female sex trade survivor : I wanted to escape but I didn’t know how to

This article was published on Times Select on the 10th June 2019.

For Phindiswa Klaas, 35, working in the sex trade was not something she had ever thought about. She had grown up in Engcobo in the Eastern Cape with her mother and four sisters.

“Then, in 1998, I moved to Cape Town with my father’s family,” she says.

Living in a household with 13 people in the the under-resourced area like Site B in Khayelitsha, Phindiswa had little hope that a great future awaited her. Then, she met a young man who soon became her boyfriend.

Soon after they had met, he encouraged her to leave her family.

“He said ‘come and live with me’. And so I went,” she says.

“Towards the end of 2001, I was pregnant with our first daughter, and I moved in with him, but his sisters kicked me out of his house, telling me that I am very young to stay with a man. I told them that I am pregnant with his daughter and then they allowed me to stay,” she recalls.

Then, her boyfriend took her to the neighbours who began telling her that there were job prospects in Mfuleni, which is about 5km away from Site B.

Her boyfriend gave her R20 for transport, and off she went.

“When I got there I met some ladies and said: ‘Please, I want to join you in whatever business you are doing’. I needed money and they were getting money.”

The women, seeing that she was clearly still in her early 20s, told her she was too young for such business but she was desperate for money and insisted.

But the horrors of the work soon became very apparent to her: “In that period, I quickly became more trapped in system of prostitution and my first experience is when a sex buyer dragged me to very dark bushes and sexually abused me and left me lying helpless in those bushes.”

It was two years later when she was desperate to get out of the system that she took up voluntary work for the ANC. By then, the boyfriend who had pimped her was no longer around.

“After volunteering, I got a job opportunity, a three-months contract. By that time I found a boyfriend who was also permanent working for ANC, and he married me.”

When the three-month contract was over, Phindiswa felt like her life could get back on track, but once again she had no income. She and her boyfriend had had a baby, so now she had two children, and no money.

She then found a job as a parking marshal, and still held hope that things would turn around. But the salary was so small it could hardly be called a living wage.

“Bear in mind that I was still married so where down the line my husband discovered that I’m a prostitute things became very bad at home and he divorced me,” she says, adding: “I knew what I was doing was not right and I wanted to exit prostitution but I did not know how.”

Pretended she sold drugs

Phindiswa had another baby girl, and saw no other way of making a living. She says that the hardest part about it was doing it to feed and clothe her children, while also having to hide from them how she was making a living.

She once even pretended to them that she was selling drugs as a way of explaining her secretive behaviour. But her children remained suspicious.

“A man would come to the house and if he left a bottle of brandy, for example, my children would see it and ask: ‘Is there a man here? Why was there a man here?’”

After years of finding herself in sexually and otherwise abusive situations just to earn a living, Phindiswa finally joined an NGO, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce. Here, she campaigned with others for the inclusion of sex workers as respected and valued members of society, and carried on working as a sex worker.

But later she realised that this did not fit in with her own ideology. She felt like the sex trade had violated all her human rights and no longer wanted to campaign for it to be seen as a legitimate way to make money that should be regulated and its workers protected.

Earlier in 2019, she joined the Kwanele survivors’ movement and says: “Enough is enough.”

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A survivors’ group: Do not offer sex work to us as a solution

This article was published on Times Select on the 10th June 2019. 

Mickey Meji is the leader of a prostitution survivor movement called Kwanele, which is supported by NGO Embrace Dignity.

Unlike other forms of advocacy that seek to make the trade legal and regulated and remove the negative stigma of the word prostitution itself, Meji is all about an exit plan for those stuck in the system.

“South African survivors of the system of prostitution have been dehumanised, humiliated and stripped of our dignity as, invariably, black, poor African women,” she says.

She says survivors do not want the system of prostitution to be decriminalised, legalised and “offered to us as a solution for unemployment and poverty”.

“We call upon government, our countrymen and women to embrace us and shift the burden, stigma and accountability to the men who take advantage of our vulnerability,” she says.

According to Embrace Dignity, reasons that many mostly poor and mostly black women and other marginalised individuals give for entering the system of prostitution include to feed and support families.

They are pushed into the system by cycles of poverty, unemployment, retrenchment, death of a breadwinner, not completing school as a result of needing to raise or help raise siblings, and by being orphaned.

Some are also forced into it to pay off loans, while others have run away from home after being sexually and physically abused.

An international study that looked at nine countries, including SA, found that 63% of those in the sex trade were sexually abused as children. This was after interviewing 854 people working in the sex trade.

It was also found that almost 60% had been beaten as children, to the point of injury, and that 64% as adults in the sex trade had been threatened with a dangerous weapon. Physical assault was high at 71%, and 63% had been raped.

Lead author Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist, said, “We asked those we interviewed in six countries (Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, SA and Zambia) whether they thought that legalising prostitution would make them physically safer. Across countries 46% stated that prostitution would be no safer if it were legalised. It is noteworthy that in Germany, where brothel prostitution is legal, 59% of respondents told us that they did not think that legal prostitution made them any safer from rape and physical assault.”

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who founded Embrace Dignity, says: “A common thread of poverty and human rights abuses all too often runs through the life stories of many survivors of the system of prostitution.”

When there is a major sporting event, it “boosts” the industry: “We are seeing a trend with not least mega-events such as major South African horse races where women are paid to fly to the race and pander to the whims of their so-called ‘blesser’,” says Madlala-Routledge.

“While society tends to judge many of these women as materialistic and so-called millennials eager to add to their shoe collection, the reality could not be further from the truth, and we need to be clear about the reasons that resulted in them accepting the advances of a ‘blesser’ in the first place,” she adds.

Meji says that given that the SA girl child is increasingly assuming the role of breadwinner, the fate of SA society depends not least on ensuring that marginalised individuals trapped in the system of prostitution are given exit programmes.

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A male survivor of prostitution: How can you call it ‘work’ when you could be killed?

This article  was published on Times Select on the 10th June 2019.

Zola Ncapayi, who now lives near Delft in Cape Town, grew up in the Eastern Cape, attending school first in Grahamstown and then Port Elizabeth. He grew up with his parents and two brothers (one older, one younger), and had always dreamed of being a teacher. After matric, he attended the University of the Western Cape where he finished his degree and then worked as a teacher for several years. It seemed as if his life was mapped out for him – although keeping his homosexuality under wraps wasn’t easy, he had a stable job, a loving family, and got much satisfaction from working as an educator.

Desperation comes

Ncapayi taught in township schools in Cape Town and eventually settled in the suburb of Observatory and taught at a school in Salt River. But, when his father died, the emotional impact on him was so severe that he began drinking.

“In 2009, my father died. I was so traumatised, I starting drinking heavily and eventually lost my job as an educator,” he says.

In 2011, with no money to pay his rent in Observatory, he moved back to the townships and, although he didn’t touch cigarettes or drugs, he “couldn’t control” himself with alcohol.

Falling apart emotionally, and under major financial stress, he turned to a very close female friend.

“I trusted her the most and shared everything that was happening to me. She knew about my financial status because I told her, and then one day she asked me a very strange question: ‘Zola, do you need easy quick cash without working hard?’ I looked at her and said: ‘My friend, which drug are you using? How is it possible to get money out of nowhere?’”

This was the beginning of a horrific journey that would take Zola’s life completely off course. His friend kept quiet, and took him to a place where she said she made easy money.

First encounter

“I still remember it was January 25 2010. I became so curious and interested to know how she is making these miracles. She said we would leave at 6pm and I must dress like a woman.”

She gave him the props: tight pants, high heels and a wig.

“She even showed me how to wear makeup,” he recalls, adding that it was the first time he had cross-dressed and it made him very uncomfortable.

They boarded a taxi to Epping.

“Bear in mind that time I knew nothing about prostitution. I only heard people talking about it but I was not interested to know the details about it because it did not concern me,” he says. “When we arrived at the Epping truck stop, she introduced me to a man who was in a huge truck.”

This was how she introduced him: “This is Zola, the one I promised you.”

He says: “Then I took two steps back and asked her: ‘Is this real, my friend, are you selling me to this man to kill me?’”

She told him to jump in a truck with the man and not ‘ask stupid questions’. The man drove the truck into the truck stop and offered Zola a drink. With his nerves shattered, he asked for a brandy.

“The way I was so nervous, I wanted to be drunk so that whatever happened I cannot actually feel.”

He knew something strange was going on but still did not realise he had been “sold” by his friend as a prostitute.

When the man began discussing “the price”, Zola told him he didn’t understand. Eventually, the man said he would “do whatever” Zola needed financially as long as he “satisfied” him sexually.

“Because I was very desperate that time for money I gave him a very big yes. After all that conversation, he said let’s go back to the truck.”

Zola says: “He started touching me. I stopped him and asked if he knew I wasn’t a woman. He said he does men and women and that was why he had asked my friend to bring me.”

Zola was repulsed by the man’s large body, but pretended to like him. They spent the night together, with Zola satisfying the man’s needs. In the morning, the man proposed being Zola’s regular client, which insinuated some type of ownership, and handed over R900.

Relieved at having earned “quick” money, Zola then entered a life of prostitution with this man, but “I still didn’t call myself a prostitute – in my mind I had finally found a man who is willing to provide and make me happy.

“The first week everything went well with my first client. In that week I had more than R3,800 because that guy was giving money every morning until he left to Johannesburg where he came from.”

The underworld

Zola’s friends promised to find new clients for him, but “other prostituted women started getting jealous of me and started fighting with my friend, telling her to keep ‘that moffie’ (me) away or they will deal with her”.

Next he was introduced to a man who showed him another underworld of “indoor selling”.

“That man took me to a hothouse in Green Point where he was making business. Things were not the same as the truck stop where I started prostituting. I had to dress like a man.”

He now began performing sex acts that made him feel extremely uncomfortable – like rimming and fisting, threesomes, and being forced under threat to have sex without a condom.

“It was difficult to adapt but I had no choice because I was desperate for money, and I got used to it. I also sold sexual acts to more than three or four different men per night.”

Having risked his life with unprotected sex, his “pimp” then demanded more money than agreed upon and forced him to pay for drinks at a local pub. Zola felt like he had compromised himself on so many levels out of desperation for the money, and was now being fleeced by the man who had pimped him. After a fallout, he left the pimp, and thus began another dark chapter in his life.

Working on the street

With no pimp, Zola now worked for himself and became what he calls “a street-based prostitute in Sea Point on Beach Road”.

“Things were hectic. There was a lot of competition and jealousy – we had to run for ‘clients’, four or five of us running for one client. Things were a little bit better in my first three days because I was a new face so I had many ‘clients’ … There were days where I stood and walked up and down the whole night and went home without making a cent.”

One night, things took a turn for the worse, bringing Zola face to face with the true fear of the world he now found himself in.

One night, a man in a fancy X3 stopped and took Zola and a few others with him. He was being so polite and kind that it unnerved Zola who wondered what the man was getting up to. He, the client, said he was going to take them to his house but would stop somewhere en route for drinks.

In the car, he asked: “How many of us are doing drugs and how many are drinking?”

The other three were all users of injectable drugs. Zola wasn’t.

“Then he took us to the nearest pub to buy few beers for him and me,” Zola says, adding that the man then gave the other three money for drugs, before zooming along to the Sea Point police station. Zola, assuming he was not from Cape Town and was lost, said to him: “Sir, this is not a pub.”

Then the man took out his badge and shouted: “You bastards are now all under arrest for loitering.”

“I started crying and begged him and I even said I am willing to do whatever he tell me to do to not go to jail,” Zola recalls. The undercover policeman drove back to Beach Road and told the three other men to get out of the car. Zola tried to run but the policeman threatened him with a gun and said: “If you try run I will blow your head off.”

The policeman drove him to a dark and secluded place, where he forced Zola to take his pants off.

“I was so nervous and shaking that I took more than five minutes to take off my pants. Then he kicked me and I fell. He dragged me to the back of his car and undressed me. After that he forced me to suck his dick. Then he raped me several times without a condom right up until the morning.”

Illness

Devastated by the experience, Zola stayed off the street for a month, even knowing his livelihood would come to a halt. During that phase, he began to feel sick and went to the clinic. There he received news that landed on him like a ton of bricks: he had contracted syphilis and also needed an HIV test.

It came back positive.

“That was the worst traumatic time of my life. I felt suicidal, but because of the support I had from Health4men and Desmond Tutu HIV Research Foundation I accepted my status and life became normal and I started treatment as much as I am still on it right now,” he says.

Brave Heroes

Over the next while, Zola put all his energy into exiting the world of prostitution, a journey he says was difficult but which he wants to encourage every prostitute to make.

At first, he took on the ideology that prostitution should be called sex work, and should be legitimised as a way to earn a living. But, this felt wrong to him: he then formed a movement for male prostitutes called Brave Heroes which is supported by Embrace Dignity, an organisation that calls a spade a spade and says that prostitution is nothing more than a form of sexual exploitation and abuse, and should be abolished.

“My life is now back on track,” he says. “How can we call something ‘work’ when there is the possibility you will be assaulted, or won’t come home, or will contract an illness, or get killed, and not even be taken seriously by the police if you report what happened to you while you were ‘at work’?”

Zola Ncapayi is a survivor of prostitution and founder of Brave Heroes – a movement for LBGTIAQ+ men and womxn who want to abolish the violent system of prostitution.

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KWANELE survivor Thulisile Khoza writes an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphoza

Open letter written by KWANELE provincial mobilisation coordinator Thulisile Khoza

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa

Hope all is well and you have rested well after the hard work of the elections and congratulations once again for retaining the power of governance.

With all that said Mr President my name is Thulisile Portia Khoza from Johannesburg and even though you may not recall but we have met a few times whilst you were still the Chairperson of the SANAC Civil Society Forum for I was one of the the sector leaders. Mr President I write this letter with great regret and concern but don’t worry I will lay out the regrets and concerns and hopefully together can rectify them.

 Regrets: Mr President I would like to start by apologizing to you and all the members of the Civil Society Forum when you were still around. I was a sector leader of the so called “sex work sector” and did not do any justice to myself (or millions of poor south african women) because I made you believe then that decriminalizing the sex trade and making it work was the way to go I am sorry and don’t blame you for believing that because myself as a survivor of the sex trade was preaching decriminalization up to the extent that you believed it was what is best for us as women.

Mr President I regret the years those words came out of my mouth and I am truly sorry. Actually that is not the future I want for myself, my child, members of my family and even for any young black woman out there. At that time I was recruited by rich white people who have never seen a future in black people and who made me believe that selling my body, soul and morals actually exploiting me was the right thing to do. Yes I agreed because I was poor, vulnerable and uneducated and you know what they say ‘working because of hunger can be dangerous for the society’.

So yes Mr President I took the job because I was desperate and wanted out of the sex trade and needed a paying job but in the process I was destroying the lives of black women like patriarchy which was designed to control the freedoms of women especially us black women. In the sex trade we are not free as women and what kind of job does that to someone.

I speak from experience as a survivor of prostitution and believe me when I say I wouldn’t wish for even my worst enemy to go through what I went through during my time as a prostitute and I know you would wish the same if you really knew what happens. It was easy for people like you to adopt the motion of decriminalization of the sex trade because the circumstances leading to trade you have not experienced and so will not your children. I quote the words of a felow survivor when she said,” Prostitution is barbaric and circumstantial and never is or would it ever be work.”

Concerns: Mr President I was concerned when you recently announced to women in Boyseens that your government was working on decriminalizing prostitution and I asked myself some questions but one that stood out for me was the issue of crime and gender based violence. South Africa is facing crimes such as rape, killing of girls and women and more especially gender based violence which is mostly experienced in the sex trade so I ask myself what effect will decriminalizing the sex trade have when all these issues are still rising factors in our everyday lives in our communities. Instead it will give rich men more power over women’s bodies and women will be treated as commodities. A fellow survivor ones said, “prostitution is a recipe and attraction of many crimes, infact it is the gateway to gender based violence.” In short crime is still an issue in South Africa and fully decriminalizing prostitution will not change the fact the high levels of physical and sexual violence against prostituted women in this country.

With all that said Mr President I think it’s time to please listen to us as survivors of this violent sex trade and by decriminalizing prostitution you would be shattering the dreams of young black women and you would be doing no justice to this beautiful and rich country of ours. This is not what Mandela, Steve Bantu Biko, Lillian Ngoyi, Govan Mbeki,  Winnie Mandela,  Albertina Sisulu and all our Black liberation struggle heroes would have wanted for poor Black women in this country. I plead with you Mr President do not be at the forefront of a global criminal syndicate with one sole purpose of destroying poor Black women. I am tired – of all the years in prostitution I left it with nothing but scars.

In closing Mr President I am a 34 years old Black woman who grew up always dreaming of being in the defence force and/or in journalism. I do not remember wanting or dreaming of being in prostitution.

Please do feel free to engage with me or thousands of survivors like me. We are movement of survivors of prostitution called KWANELE  and we who want to abolish the system of prostitution. We are advocating for the equality model which criminalises the buyers, pimps and brothel owner but decriminalises the sellers and provides exit programs for women in prostitution.

kind regards

Thulisile Portia Khoza – KWANELE Provincial Mobilisation Coordinator (Gauteng)

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NOKWANDA’S STORY: PROSTITUTION IS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

I do not want my children to follow up my footsteps.

I got into the system of prostitution when I was 13 years of age to assist my mother who was also at the time in the sex trade to raise my four younger siblings. Even though my mother was in the sex trade, life was not easy and we struggled a lot hence I had to also stepped in and assisted.

After my mom passed away, my life became so difficult that I ended up marrying a person who was a thief.  Being married to a criminal was not easy at all, that is what most of us women in prostitution are exposed to; eventually my husband was murdered leaving me with children to take care of.

This whole situation forced me to go back again to the street to sell my body in order to take care of my children. Prostitution has undermined my dignity so much that I am not even respected and I’m called names such as marhosha –  that what women who sell their bodies are called , sefebe – a whore etc in front of my children.

For most women in prostitution including myself, prostitution is not a free choice but a choice some of us had to make because of circumstances and those vary but in my case, it was poverty and seeing my mother doing it.

My mother was in the sex trade for many years yet she died having nothing and I came out of it empty handed hence because of this my siblings didn’t managed to finish school and our mother left us homeless, it is definitely not a future we can offer our girls as a profession.

The system of prostitution must end now; we need to deal with our poverty and to protect our dignity now. The life I live is not a life I’m proud of, we face many challenges in the streets with the buyers. They beat us, murder us and rape us and we are afraid of going to the police because they also do not take us serious.

I was not able to give my children a straight answer when they wanted to know where I work, to make matters worse they are all girls. I still would not be able to give anyone a straight answer even if prostitution is decriminalized tomorrow because it is not work to be proud of.

PROSTITUTION IS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN.

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Embrace Dignity marching to Parliament on 26 April to end prostitution through Equality Law

On Wednesday, 26 April, a day before South Africans across the country will celebrate Freedom Day, Embrace Dignity will march to Parliament to deliver a petition to President Jacob Zuma to demand freedom for those still enslaved through prostitution and sex trafficking in this country.

Dubbed the #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom march, the organisers will hand over a petition that calls on the President to release the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) final report on Adult Prostitution and enact the Equality Law to end prostitution and sex trafficking in South Africa.

The purpose of the march is to hand over a signed petition and memorandum calling on President Zuma to enact a law that will prevent the oppression of prostituted persons by:

  • Making it a criminal offence to pay a person for sexual acts.
  • Completely decriminalising the sale of sexual acts and providing comprehensive support and services to help survivors exit.
  • Challenging the belief that it is acceptable to treat women and girls as sexual objects by paying them for sexual acts.

But why exactly are we so adamant that the President does this? The answer is simple.

Over the past 20 years, rates of sexual violence have increased in the country. Prostitution is one of the most brutal forms of sexual abuse, which is founded on and perpetuated by patriarchy (systematic unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed). Prostitution thrives on men’s sexual entitlement to women and other marginalised groups’ bodies. Current South African law makes the purchase and sale of sexual acts illegal. However, while some police officers are known to arrest and brutalise prostituted persons for loitering, buyers are rarely arrested. The overwhelming majority of those sold in South Africa’s sex trade are South African women and women trafficked from other countries. Reports indicate that prostituted people are beaten, raped, abandoned and isolated. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common. One study found that 75% of a group of prostituted individuals in South Africa reported experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

In light of the need to address the harms of the sex trade, the South African Law Reform Commission published a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution and issued a call for public participation in the evaluation of the country’s law on “adult prostitution”. The Commission evaluated four major legal frameworks and submitted the final report and recommendations to the Minister of Justice who will publish the report after its consideration by the Cabinet.

We are calling on the South African government to enact the fourth legal option or the Equality Law model, also known as the Swedish or Nordic Models. The Equality Law model provides a framework that upholds gender equality and human rights. This model works to end demand for paid sexual acts by holding those who purchase sex accountable for the harm they cause. This model also mandates that the government provide prostituted individuals with comprehensive medical services, economic and educational opportunities, and alternative livelihood programmes.

In addition, it will serve as a tool to change the pervasive cultural paradigm that views women and other marginalised bodies as second-class citizens. This option would also provide an effective and comprehensive framework for combatting the spread of HIV/AIDS through targeting and eliminating the demand.

By enacting the Equality Law model, the South African government will affirm that women, girls and marginalised people are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those who purchase sex. We urge the South African government to affirm that women and girls are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those who purchase sex.

South Africa must NOT legalise or decriminalise the sex trade that destroys the lives and human rights of its most vulnerable populations who have absence of choice. We urge South Africa to become the first African country to adopt a law that will solely decriminalise prostituted people and curb the demand for prostitution.

If you believe in our cause, you can join as in person at the march:

WHEN: Wednesday, 26 April 2017
TIME: 10:00 – 14:00
WHERE: Cape Town CBD, starting from Keizersgracht Street parking lot, below CPUT

If you can’t join us in person on the day, you can still show your support for Embrace Dignity – who is supported in its endeavours by the international organisation, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – by signing our petition urgently calling on President Zuma and the South African government to enact the Equality Model legislation that will target the exploiters, including those who purchase sex, while providing protection and support to prostituted individuals.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD BY SIGNING OUR PETITION ONLINE.

Most importantly, remember to follow us on Twitter and to tag us by using our main hashtag #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom and any of the other hashtags: #ProstitutionIsOppression, #EndProstitution, #EqualityLaw and #Nordic Law.  You are also welcome to follow all the live action on Facebook by liking our page.

If you want to know more about our NGO, click here.

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