News 25.5.2015 04:12 pm

Why I became a sex worker

Bailey, a sex worker. Pic: Northcliff Melville Times

Bailey, a sex worker. Pic: Northcliff Melville Times

James Bailey (not his real name), a recently retired sex worker, says he entered the sex work industry due to unemployment.

Bailey worked in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg since 2005 after moving in with friends in Hillbrow. He said he entered the industry aware sex work is a crime, Northcliff Melville Times reported.

Although he used the money to take care of his family, Bailey has never disclosed his former occupation to his family because of the stigma and discrimination against male sex workers.

“On my first day on the job, I was very nervous because I was afraid I could get arrested or victimised by clients and not have anyone to turn to,” he said. His urge to make a living, however, gave him the strength to soldier on.

“I would dress in drag and pose as a woman because people would not just pull over for a man because of the criminal state of the country.”

Bailey worked as an independent sex worker but had people protecting him to make sure he was safe.

“We usually took precautions like making sure we don’t work alone on the street. When someone comes and picks you up, the other sex workers would take a picture of the number plate of the vehicle. The corner we worked on also had a CCTV camera, so everything was being recorded,” he said.

Bailey added being victimised by clients was not the only worry of a sex worker. “We were victimised by police all the time because they cannot prove what you were doing; they would use bylaws and arrest us for things like loitering. We would spend a night in a cell and be released the next day. Sometimes they pepper sprayed us or pulled off our wigs to show that we are not women.”

He spoke of the time when he was beaten by a police officer after he had tried to run away from being detained. “I felt violated, and it was very emotional being slapped around. I don’t understand why something as non-violent as sex is considered [a crime] like murder and theft,” he said.

Following his retirement, Bailey now works for Sisonke, a Braamfontein-based movement of sex workers by sex workers. Its primary focus is on mobilising sex workers to speak out on issues of importance to them.

Earlier this year, a Johannesburg sex worker revealed she earned between R3 000 and R4 000 a month. The woman, who identified herself as Melissa, 28, said she charged R100 for straight sex, and for extra services, she charged between R200 and R300, in the Johannesburg South area.

“I came to Johannesburg [from Chatsworth, Durban] to try and get work, but without matric no one wanted to employ me. I began selling my body out of desperation, and I’ve been doing this now for nearly three years,” she said.

“I rent a room in Rosettenville for R1 700 a month. It’s just a room, and there is an outside toilet and bath I can use.”

The plight of South Africa’s sex workers was highlighted at the launch of a national HIV/Aids programme, which focuses on their needs.

– Caxton News Service

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