Sex Industry on Heat

Published on 10th May 2005

Prostitution is said to be ‘the oldest’ profession. It has traversed epochs, institutions, ages, developments and even geographical boundaries.


A study on Bonobo Chimpanzees show the behavior of ‘prostitution’ based around access to food and other gifts.  By definition, prostitution is the sale of sexual services. Some of the earliest forms of prostitution on record are the sacred prostitution supposedly practiced among Sumerians.


In ancient sources - Herodotus, Thucydides - there are a number of pointers to sacred prostitution. In Babylon, a woman had to reach, once in a lifetime, the sanctuaries of Militta (Aphrodites or Nana/ Anahita) and have sex with a foreigner as a sign of hospitality for a symbolic price.  Prostitution is depicted in both males and females.


In Cyprus (Paphus) and Corinth there were over one thousand prostitutes who were counted in a temple (hierodules). In epoch, cases of prostitution have been observed and in ancient Rome slaves were nurtured for prostitution.  Even in the middle ages, prostitution advanced with emergency of urbanization.


In modern-day Kenya, prostitution is blossoming. It would be hazardous to bury heads in the sand and pretend it is not happening for it is time to find ways of dealing with it so as to reduce the problems associated with it.

Prostitution has developed different names depending on methods it adopts.  A sex worker is anyone who earns a living by providing sexual services.  Some use this term to refer to a prostitute whereas other people use the term to refer to erotic actors, nude models for pornography, striptease dancers and performers in peep shows as well as providers of erotic massage and phone sex workers.


Prostitution varies with socio-economic class. We have street prostitution where commercial sex workers solicit potential customers from strategic corners of certain streets.  Recently, brothels have started to emerge. Here some tycoons pay young girls and hire them out to men at a fee.  Call-girls is yet another kind of prostitution that carters for a wider client base including Asian girls, Somali girls among others.


Last but not least are home-based prostitutes, who rent houses from where they serve their clients. An example of this is what is observed in Majengo slums of Nairobi. One can adopt more than one kind at convenience although some prostitutes prefer that which earns them most. Some also consider that which guarantees most security.


Women in this business cite their involvement as erratic and emanating from economic hardship, as attested to by the lady from Machakos who was interviewed by an IREN Kenya staff recently. Most of them lack formal education to make them competitive for employment in the formal sector. The issue of the girl child being sidelined in favor of the boy child is rampant in our communities and it cannot go without mention. It is perhaps one of the greatest contributions to the emerging cases of prostitution amongst most girls/ women.


With the increase in the cost of living and poverty catching up with over 56% of the Kenyan population, many parents have also joined the scheme of shoving themselves and their young girls into prostitution.


Cases of human trafficking of women to other countries have also been reported.  Apart from abduction, some young girls and women are sold to brothels to become prostitutes. While in the brothels they are denied their rights and dehumanized.


Traditions that initiate and perpetuate prostitution have been cited in several communities in Kenya.  In some communities, a circumcised boy is expected to go out and “test his manhood”.  The testing involves having sexual intercourse with as many girls/women as possible, many times to gain the social ‘caste’ of ‘a man’. In the course of this, many young people end up in hard-core prostitution.


Areas that long distance track drivers rest during their drives teem with potential clients.  Some prostitutes have related their current behavior to previous abusive sexual relationships; rape, incest or wife beating, broken relationships and widowhood to mention but a few. They always feel they are ‘dirty’ hence engaging in activities to show a rebellion they have to the ‘normal’ society.


Drug abuse and addiction has also been listed amongst the many causes of prostitution.  In some incidences, the drug addicts pay for the service through sex.  For some, sex comes in after the use of drugs due to lack of self-control.


Non-moralists have talked about prostitution as a form of lucrative trade so long as it is carried out with all fairness.  However, it is hard to know where the boundaries of fairness fall and who or what determines them?


For moralists’ prostitution is illegal, it is sinful and should be cut from its roots. Violence is commonly and frequently an effect of prostitution.  Since the law does not allow prostitution, the victims are molested, dehumanized and even harassed. Occasionally, the disagreements on payments end up in violently. In other circumstances, prostitutes are the targets of gangsters and serial killers.  In extreme cases, some religions and social stigma associated with prostitution makes them a hit point.


The medical problem is the biggest effect of prostitution.  Prostitutes tend to have large numbers of sexual partners and this increases the spread of STIs and HIV/AIDS.


Some proposals put across on fighting prostitution include banning prostitution, legalizing it and introducing a system of registration for prostitutes that mandates health checks and or educates prostitutes and their clients on the use of condoms.


For some, proscribing prostitution is counter productive, since it doesn’t eradicate it, it only drives it underground, making treatment and monitoring for those infected more difficult.


Encouraging safe sex with routine testing for STIs would be successful if applied consistently as STI drugs are free in the government facilities. However, having them available consistently would be challenge.


Granted, the option of beginning income generating activities that expose them less to health hazards is recommended.  NGOs, community-based organizations and other financial grantees should be willing to invest in the society. With increased legal business environment, one can attract more women into legal business. There should also be a strategy to provide continuous health education to the commercial sex workers and their clients.


Prostitutes, if legalized should have a union to help them push their rights.  They are still human beings and should not be dehumanized. Such an organization could also enable them to access drugs and other essentials for their trade.


It is also prudent that the government sets up policies that support small-scale enterprises.  Without such defined policies we will continue seeing many turning to prostitution to earn a living.

Prostitution, as it were, involves drug abuse. Which is why it is important to invest in counseling services and strategically target a variety of clients. You will be quite surprised of the number of people who can, when well guided and counseled, change their behavior.


Stigma reduction towards prostitutes can serve to resolve the problem.  The society should learn to appreciate the presence of commercial sex workers and work towards helping them deal with the risks they face.


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