Ex Sex Worker Tells of Life on the Streets

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK AT the age of 25, she is pregnant for the sixth time and she has lived most of her adult years trying to make a living out of the streets. She has two children from the harsh streets of Windhoek, whose fathers she does not know, while two others died. At a tender age of 12 years, after death robbed her of her father and the support she had just when she was around eight years, she faced rejection and abuse at the hands of her stepfather, and thus turned to the streets. It was not long before she was raped by a man who later accepted responsibility and looked after her but misfortune struck and this man was arrested for dealing in drugs. E.Goagus, as she prefers to be called, is one of the many young women from Windhoek’s informal settlements who have taken to selling their bodies for money to raise their children and meet their daily needs. Like many others, who society calls sex workers, circumstances forced Goagus to turn to the streets for a living. After losing their biological parents, many stepchildren are ill treated and abused by not being given food and sometimes raped by their stepfathers. Due to such social problems, she started drinking and found herself living under one of the bridges in Windhoek, a famous spot for sex workers. “We stayed under the bridge and I was introduced to sex work,” said she. Men would pick up her friends, and the experience she had while living under the bridge was that and when they came back, they had new clothes and shoes, while Goagus was left living from garbage bins. “One day I said to myself, if I sit here and look for food in the bins and eat, I will not get anywhere,” she said, sighing with relief after having told what one would hold dearly in their hearts. If there was an alternative, Goagus says, she would not have turned to sex work because of the hardships that the women experience. Being a school dropout, the only work that Goagus and other uneducated mothers can do is braid people’s hair, do domestic work or wash and iron for people. This though, is not sustainable as due to the high unemployment rate, it is difficult to get work, where one can work for three days in a week. “I have tried to wash clothes, braid hair and iron people’s clothes but to get work for three days a week, you don’t get it,” she said. Due to the nature of their customer’s demands, many rarely use condoms. As Father Klein Hitpass Herman, a Roman Catholic Father who for the past10 years has tried to keep the sex workers off the streets by giving them basic needs such as maize meal, fish and other supplements, puts it, “The men do not want to eat sweets with the wrappers on.” On most occasions, sex workers are promised more money if they have sex without condoms. And even though sex workers have been accused of spreading HIV and AIDS, Goagus says: “It’s not us giving clients AIDS, they do not want to use condoms.” Sex workers have clients from all walks of life, including high ranking government officials, the police, truck drivers, the clergy and the list goes on. While this is the case, the workers, in most cases get a raw deal. “These are very rich people who do not want to pay. They hide us in boots of their cars and truck drivers take us for many days with little pay.” “When we are away we ask neighbours to look after the children and share the money that we get with them,” she said. Because of the ill treatment and abuse that Goagus has faced on the streets, her resolve is to get off the streets. If what she says is anything to go by, she has not been on the streets for the past two months. “We are being wasted there, I do not want to go back. It’s not nice to be a sex worker. It is tough.” After all, at Stand Together, where the sex workers come together to get assistance with food and clothing, Father Herman persuades them to leave the streets and concentrate on raising their children. His experience is that women below the age of 19 can be redeemed while for the slightly older ones it is difficult. “It is like speaking against the wall,” says Father Herman. Now that she has a zinc house, thanks to Father Herman, Goagus has plans to get all her children together that they can live under one roof as a family. She was forced to give up one of her children because the father did not want the child. Before this shack was built, she would sleep from one house to another and was forced to share the money she made with the owners of those houses. Bearing in mind the kind of things sex workers go through such as stabbings, killings and other forms of mal-treatment and abuse, one would believe that really sex workers do not go to the streets for pleasure. But for them to call it quits, they need alternatives like projects and other programmes to assure them of an income on a monthly basis. “Help us to help ourselves and our children. If someone is providing assistance to us, we can not go to the streets and waste our bodies, we will do something,” pleaded Goagus, nearly coming to tears.