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Diane, "Most people hate sex workers"

Diane (not her real name) is a sex worker in Cape Town
(Bill Corcoran/IRIN)

Diane* is a sex worker in South Africa's tourist capital, Cape Town. She spoke to IRIN/PlusNews about her 12 years in the business.

"I had a very normal Cape Town childhood, with family and friends around all the time. I come from a working-class background, have two children - boys - and we live in the CBD [Central Business District].

"I came into sex work quite late in the day, when I was 28, and I got involved because the job I did - packaging - could not pay for both accommodation and food for me and my boys.

"I had fallen out with my own family, and their [the boys'] father was gone, so I couldn't turn to anyone close for help. If I had their support I wouldn't have turned to prostitution to make a living, I think.

"Anyway, I started in a nightclub in Sea Point [a high-density suburb along the beach near the CBD], and there was a whole sex industry going on in clubs at that time. It was easier before 1994 [the end of apartheid] because although people knew it existed, it was not in your face; we didn't get hassle from the police.

"But since then the industry has changed dramatically. A lot of drugs have come into the business, and I'd say more than 50 percent of the girls, the ones who can't handle the strain of the job, are now on drugs while they work.

"I only do the job part-time now, as I have other jobs to earn a living. My children are in their teens and are less dependent on me as well, so there is less pressure on me to earn lots of money.

"They don't know I am on the game, as I am very discreet and never work in my area. When I do go out, I usually work the street in designated places like Green Point [the adjoining suburb, nearer the city], but it is only a few nights a week - not like the old days when it was six.

"I go out when the kids are in school, or have gone away for the weekend with their friends, or something like that.

"People get into the sex industry because it gives you a lot of independence and a chance to make decent money; to depend on others for an income is the worst thing ever, but I don't think girls like doing the job, and I feel guilty and sad that I do it.

"It [being a sex worker] has strange consequences. You are often very lonely and don't mix well with people, because you know if they knew what you did, they would not talk with you. Most people hate sex workers.

"I never experienced violence or was threatened by my clients – I was only ever hit by boyfriends. But each girl has different story to tell, and many girls have been beaten up. For me, sex work has sometimes not been so bad.

"If you have good clients who come back regularly, you kind of live out a fantasy. You are mixing with people you would not normally mix with. And in your head, they become the husband you never had, as they treat you right and speak to you nicely.

"The average customer is generally very nice too, as they know if they treat one girl bad, every other girl will know, and they will soon not be able to pay for sex. The police are a constant problem though, because they are always trying to supplement their income out of your pocket.

"I want to get out of it completely now. I am 40 years old, and what have I got to show from my work in the sex industry? Nothing. I have no pension or money saved.

"What I would like people to know is that sex workers are just ordinary people too, who are trying to make a living. So we should not be looked at like we are scum. And if you are someone who thinks doing the job is such a bad thing, then what should we do instead?"

* Not her real name


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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