EXCLUSIVE: ‘It's just a normal job to me’ – one of Port Elizabeth’s reviled sex-workers opens up to RNews
If you've ever been in Central, Port Elizabeth, you will have probably come across a number of young women, of many races, working in the world’s oldest profession. They stand on several street corners – day and night, whether it’s sunny or raining and much to the annoyance of residents and businesses in the area. This attitide is understandable given that prostitution is often accompanied by other vices such as drugs and robberies.
These prostitutes (or sex-workers, as some would say) have become a permanent feature in Central – especially around Bird Street, to the extent that most locals would notice if a particular face was missing from a corner.
RNEWS discovered that not all of these woman have been coerced into the trade as many people would assume.
After initial rebuffs, RNEWS managed to spend a day with one of the prostitutes, Chantelle - not her real name, who opened up and shared how she ended up on the streets of Port Elizabeth as one of society’s despised ladies of the night.
There is nothing to prepare one for an assignment like this. You do not know how the subject will respond and you do not want to come across as judgmental. Perhaps, due to the nature of their profession, I discovered that prostitutes do not conform to what most people would regard as polite mannerisms – hence my initial brutal rebuffs from the ladies that I first approached.
Still, after striking a cord with Chantelle, I learnt that there is another side to these women. She began by telling me how she entered the business way back. Like most young girls, she fell in love with the entertainment world after her Matric year and secured her first job at a local night club.
Becoming a prostitute
“I started working at a night club as a bar lady and was exposed to everything that happened there.
“As time went on, I got close to these ladies (prostitutes) and understood why they were doing what they do and it made sense to me that drugs is not always a reason for prostitution but that prostitution is an easy way of making money,” Chantelle described.
Intrigued and desiring to make ‘easy’ money, she later became a pole dancer – a job she held for many years. She claims that dancing at clubs was the only thing she knew and could do to earn a living.
However, wanting to make more money – and with the opportunities available due to her pole dancing, she ended up joining the world of prostitution. Prostitution later became the only viable option for income after her life took a knock when her rich boyfriend dumped her and she lost her pole dancing job.
“I used to have a rich boyfriend; he did lots of things for me. He used to buy me fancy things and spoiled me and being a dancer I used to hang out with people with lots of cash and I got used to the pampered lifestyle,” Chantelle said.
“I could not cope with the downgrade in my life. Being broke all the time and constantly asking people for money – even for a simple cigarette, was a bit too much for me. I needed to make money fast and prostitution was a solution to my financial difficulties.”
Prostitution is a profession
She said she started working as sex worker fulltime in November 2015 and maintains that prostitution, for her, is like any normal job - the only difference is she sets her own rules.
“You’ll get lots of people criticising prostitution and calling us names but to me this is no different from any other job if you look at it from my point of view. Not all of us prostitutes are doing this for drugs, but are actually doing it to sustain and provide for our families,'' Chantelle described.
Like any other job, she adds that there are pros and cons and her kind of work comes with great responsibility and too many difficulties.
“On the streets, we do things a little different, there are no rules. It's like a country with no government or a king.
“When I first started working, it was bit challenging. I used to get threatened and intimidated by other girls but as time went by I got used to the life and made friends with the other girls,” said Chantelle.
Challenges faced by prostitutes
Prodded for the challenges she found on the street, she told RNEWS; “I remember my first days of work; it was a struggle emotionally and physically. Every time, before I closed my eyes and fell asleep, I would feel very awful but as time passes I learnt adjust to it.
“I won't lie it’s not easy, the job is risky especially at night. Sometimes I hook up with clients that take advantage of me and I can't report them to the police because prostitution is illegal in this country.”
She also added that sometimes she does not make enough money, especially at night, because many clients want to buy cheap because they know that it's cold and the girls become desperate to get out of the cold.
Chantelle rents a flat in Central with several of her friends.
She has a boyfriend, who supports her life as a prostitute
Unlike other prostitutes, she doesn't have a ‘pimp’ for protection against uncontrollable clients or other prostitutes - but has a boyfriend, who she says is always there for her.
“I don't have a pimp because and I don't think I'll ever need one, I make my own money and my boyfriend and the other guys that I normally get my fix (drugs) from protect me,” described Chantelle.
She explained to RNEWS why she also uses drugs and the different kinds she takes.
“I take three kinds of drugs, tik (Crystal Methamphetamine), dagga and mandrax. I only use tik at night, so that I can be awake but normally I use mandrax and marijuana.
“I live with drug dealers, so for me drugs are easily accessible and everyone I live with is a user,’’ said Chantelle.
On being a mother and her dreams
Apart from being a lady of the night, Chantelle is actually a mother of an 11 year-old girl whom she says lives with her mother.
She says her family has no clue about her current lifestyle and work - she sends them money and continues to pretend to be still working as a pole dancer, and it kills her to be constantly lying to them.
“Our society still looks down on prostitutes who operate on the streets and if my mother and daughter were to find out, they'll be miserable and die of shame. I haven't been at home for quite some time but I do support them,’’ she said.
Like any other person, Chantelle has hopes and dreams she would like to fulfil. Because dancing is her passion, she hopes to open school of dance for children in Port Elizabeth.
“I wish to open dance classes for kids, who are dreaming of becoming dancers. I know that will not happen overnight but I have faith in God. One day my dream will be come true!”
Chantelle says that if it wasn't for the drugs she uses, she would have opened the dance classes a long time ago.
Does prostitution pay well? Advice to young woman
She says that in a given month, she can make more than R4 650 – from charging R150 per client. However the money doesnt last long.
“Prostitution means the money is easy to come and easy to go, there is no being wise about it. I have so many bills to pay and also have to buy my fix (drugs) every day. I wish I could stop to save money but I can't – I am already hooked,”' she said.
Chantelle, however, said that she takes her job very seriously and respects her clients and her fellow workers in the trade.
Her day often revolves around making sure she looks presentable and appealing to her clients.
Asked about dangers like sexually transmitted diseases, Chantelle says it’s her golden rule to always protect herself and she goes for HIV/Aids testing once in a while.
Would she recommend other young woman become prostitutes? Chantelle says no ways - because of the life threatening situations that they deal with every day on the streets.
“Prostitution is not easy! One is faced with great challenges every day.
“I would advise the youth of South Africa not to get involved and instead go to school and educate themselves,” she said.
“Today, if I can be presented with a life changing opportunity that can help me leave this trade, I will grab it with both hands - life on the streets is tough, it’s survival of the fittest!"
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