Turning tricks

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Turning tricks

Dorothy Black thinks that sex workers and their johns should be decriminalised

 Image: Getty Images
Article: Dorothy Black

About two years ago Miss K was propositioned by a fine German gentleman to be his girlfriend for the duration of his stay in South Africa. I say ‘propositioned’ because he would pay her for the pleasure. She would live in an apartment he rented and drive a car he provided. She would get R25 000 tax-free cash a month to spend as she pleased.

He suggested it over a light snack of oysters and Bollinger on the second date.

It was tempting. At the time we were living in a house that was falling apart around us, with a live-in hippy landlord who believed water and electricity were optional extras and that rats were man’s best friend.

If the German was here for six months, K reckoned, she could pay off her debt, save the extra money, use the time to find a better job (day-time would be all hers), move out of the dump we called home and afford a pair of Jimmy Choos.

It was a good plan.

She didn’t go through with it. But then, she didn’t really have to and she didn’t really want to. Given different circumstances – like necessity and desire – would it have been a bad choice to make?

I’m not a bleeding heart or a feminazi about this sort of thing and, in my mind, there is nothing to moralise about. We all sell ourselves and our time for money. We are all whores to the system. The difference is that those of us plying our trade in offices during the decent hours of 9 to 5 have recourse to legislation if we’re mistreated by the people that pay us.

Sex workers do not have this luxury of legal protection simply because what they do is considered less respectable than what we do. Selling your body is debased; selling your time and talent is not.

It’s an odd ideology that elevates the body and sex to such a level of sacred that it becomes profane. It’s odder still that this ideology – one that makes a moral code of a perfectly harmless instinct – continues to thrive and hold sway in a supposedly enlightened culture.

What is it about sex, exactly, that is so awful? More to the point, what is it about paying for sex that makes it a crime? Why are we so threatened by it?

As talks seemed to be underway to legalise prostitution, I was horrified to hear that the whole issue was instead slapped with the draconian and dramatically titled Vice Squad (roll drums please!).

Instead of moving towards a solution that would finally legitimise this old profession and put systems in place to protect those who are truly exploited, we got instead a group of vice-huntin’ crime-busters out to set South Africa on a course to moral regeneration. Yeehaw!

Apart from cracking down on drug thugs, we are assured that they will rid us of filthy, evil whores and wipe the city clean of sleazy johns. They will do so by deploying the shrewd (and illegal) tactic of entrapment and the ‘name and shame’ game. Naturally, the business of selling sex will never go underground and no one will ever want to pay for sex ever again. Poor ugly people, how will they get laid now?

Seriously though. The idea that busting a few brothels is ever going to stop the pay and play scene is ridiculous. Men (and women) will never stop dishing out for NSA sex – whether they do so because it’s easy, forbidden, fun, a fantasy or because they’re lonely. And there’s simply no reason to deny consenting adults the right to do with their bodies what they will. On both sides of the transaction.

As for child trafficking and exploitation, this is as easily found in the clothing industry, on farms and in the mining sector as in the sex market. Trying to just make it all go away does nothing to protect vulnerable groups and it does nothing to address the socio-economic position of those who might find it necessary, but not desirable, to turn tricks.

But I guess it’s easier to kick up a fuss about making South Africa a better place for us all by busting a sex house on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s certainly easier than challenging Mr Man With The Real Money and his five-grand-a-night escort – or his 25-grand-a-month ‘girlfriend’ – in their 5-star surroundings. Middle-class folk always get the shitty end of the deal.

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