Prostitution has been labelled as one of the “oldest professions” in the world due to its ability to have spanned centuries and various generations. Curiously, though labelled as a profession it literally does not need any form of skills or capital to start with. All it usually takes is a decision and determination to engage in it, and perhaps an introduction to a group of prostitutes.
Many reasons account for people venturing into this profession. For some, it might have started off as a means to an end; for others it is due to broken homes, being lured into it, poverty, child trafficking and other economic reasons. Persons engaged in prostitution have many tags including hooker, whore, call girl, sex worker, slut, trick, prostitute, escort, harlot, tramp or, euphemistically, “commercial sex worker.” “Prostitute” is the formal name for those who engage in such a sexual profession.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a prostitute as “a person who performs sexual activity for payment or who does, or offers to do an activity for money, despite personal dislike or dishonour, especially a woman.” It adds that “one perceived as engaging in sexual activity with many people could also be termed a prostitute.” Wikipedia defines prostitution as “the business or practice of engaging in sexual relations in exchange for payment or some other benefit.” Clients of these prostitutes are varied. They range from truck pushers, driver’s mates, long distance truck drivers, students to married men, indeed, people from all walks of life.
Across countries, the legal status of prostitution is varied. Some countries consider prostitution as permissible but do not regulate it; others regulate it, as well as treat it as enforced or unenforced crime. There are commonalities in how the various rules are enforced across countries but each country is idiosyncratic in terms of detail. Some European countries are very liberal with prostitution, with eight of them (The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Lativa) regulating it and legalizing prostitution. Additionally countries that recognize prostitution as legal have gone ahead to decriminalize it and as such prostitutes soliciting for sex in these countries will not be arrested unless they engage in illegal activities.
In Ghana, prostitution is not legalized and cannot be practiced in the open. According to section 279 of the Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29) as amended by Act 554 (section 15), it is criminal for any person to offer his or her body commonly for acts of lewdness (sex) payment. Section 275 of the same Act also states that “ any person who in any public place persistently solicits or importunes to obtain clients for any prostitute or any other immoral purpose shall be guilty of a misdemeanour. Mrs. Angela Dwamena Aboagye, the Executive Director of Ark Foundation, an institution responsible for abused women and children, explains that though there is a law on soliciting for immoral purposes, legally speaking there is no crime like prostitution in Ghana. This gives a perspective as to why the police in Ghana have the right to arrest anyone seen soliciting for sex or doing something like soliciting to get somebody’s attention for sex.
Although prostitution is illegal in Ghana, it is practiced in various areas within the country. In Accra mention can be made of the demolished ‘Sodja bar at circle, Togo Embassy roundabout in Cantonments, Madina market and the springing up of various spots in developing areas as well. The client base of prostitutes runs a whole gamut from truck pushers, driver’s mates, long distance truck drivers, students to married men, indeed, people from all walks of life, high and low. Traditionally, these prostitutes have consisted of matured ladies/women parading dark sections of streets or corners to be approached by clients for their services, however these trend seems to be changing.
Child, “corporate and social media” prostitution
In recent times, there has been a worrying trend of children as young as 12 years old joining the trade. Children practicing prostitution face serious challenges among which are health, education and career. Additionally, there is also an increasing trend of students being engaged in what I will term “corporate prostitution” and the social media prostitution.
Corporate prostitution is the term I use to describe university or tertiary students who are involved in prostitution. Such students make their telephone numbers available to selected hotels and restaurants who in turn pass them on to clients who need their services. Some tertiary students even go the extra mile to hang out at these hotels and restaurants and approach men who come without a partner and by way of acquainting with them lay their offer on the table. With how bold prostitutes have become in now offering their services, it seems as if the days they used to offer their services in the dark are almost over. If this modus operandi surprises you, wait till you hear what happens with the advancement in technology.
Now, with the advancement in technology, prostitutes have found another way of advertising their services, precisely on Facebook. Yes! It is happening on Facebook and who knows where next it might be: Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram etc. A number of regular Facebook users would testify that there have been times when they received messages from some of these people and either delete or block them. It must be said that the prostitution on Facebook is gender neutral. Both male and females are involved in it. A male cousin of mine for instance showed me a message he received from a guy who wanted friendship and turned out to be gay, so in essence the friendship was a pass at a gay.
For the prostitutes on Facebook their modus operandi is displaying nude pictures of themselves with an interesting name of choice, not much in terms of profile information, only a contact and if you are lucky and they are students, they display the name of their school (though I am tempted to think the school displayed might be for impression purposes). The contact is for interested persons and potential clients to call them for business. In the extreme scenarios they choose to send messages to “selected” individuals with the request of wanting to be friends with you. The choice then lies on you to reply the message or decline. Some even go to the extent of creating Facebook pages or groups and adding people of the opposite sex.
Two colleagues of mine shared contacted two such ladies on Facebook whilst undertaking this research. In the first case my friend (Thomas assumed for write-up) contacted a Nigerian lady engaged in the act (Ngozi assumed for write up) for her services. After a brief conversation to establish acquaintaince, Thomas bluntly told her that he needed her services but where can she meet her and what was her charge. Ngozi, did not act surprise as she knew what Thomas wanted. She quickly answered Thomas and told him to come meet at hotel in Spintex (which she directed Thomas too and told him it was not far from her house) as well as her charge of GHc 150 for a particular style. At the appointed time of 5pm that day Thomas starts receiving calls from Ngozi, obviously finding out where he is, since she is already at the hotel.
One other friend also calls another prostitute and she also gives us a location for the act and when my friend failed to show up, she sent this message to him “did u know u are a fool to send me request big one that what u are ay god polish u an u shall have no pace for making me waste my fair goat that what are u.”
Thus, some efforts are being made to arrest the trade, which I must say has been without success, there is now an additional avenue for the trade to flourish which may be much difficult to track. In the last few years the Police have conducted swoops at some known spots to arrest prostitutes; Anas Aremeyaw Anas did an expose to help in the arrest of a Chinese trafficking cartel, as well as the demolishing of the once infamous “Sodja bar” in circle, in an attempt to control the practice. The efforts’ being made does not seem to have stopped them however. It seems to be on the increase and even now has some foreign African nationals involved as well. The General Telegraph earlier this year published a story where Ghanaian prostitutes were complaining that their Nigerian counterparts were literally “stealing the mean” making it difficult for them to earn an income. This may perhaps signify that prostitution in Ghana has become lucrative making Nigerians join the trade. Alternatively it could also be the fat that prostitutes may want to work at a place they may not be recognized hence the choice of Ghana. Ironically, despite the illegality of what they were doing, they were pleading with the Government (the law enforcer) to halt the activities of foreigners engaged in the profession. The use of the social media platform as well as the hotel and restaurant mediums makes detection of those engaged in the practice difficult. It now makes it easier and less stressful for those engaged in the act. Their patrons, among who can be found married men, students, politicians, educated people and even religious leaders are also regular users of Facebook as well as guests of the various hotels and restaurants.
It must be said that there are positives and negatives of the new methods and not all prostitutes are in favour of using social media and/or engaging in corporate prostitution. A lady who wants to remain anonymous but had been engaged in the profession for almost a decade admitted to me that the young girls engaged in social media prostitutions, mostly from universities and also educated are the ones being favoured by their clients now as they are able to speak good English as well as keep up with the latest fashion trends. This is gradually killing their business. According to her, this turn of events has forced many of the less educated ones to “upgrade” themselves and improve in speaking the Queen’s English so as to enable them also attract more clients.
As the above narrative shows, prostitution does not seem to have slowed down in Ghana, most especially with new methods being used, despite it not being allowed in Ghana. The current method of arresting prostitute has also not proven effective as they usually get bailed and before long are back in active trade. Mrs. Angela Dwamena Aboagye is also against the arrest of commercial sex workers, since many stories of abuse and exploitation do arise from such arrests. She suggests an improvement on our social welfare system to help assist those engaged in it.
According to Mrs. Aboagye: “citizens can advocate for the strengthening of the social systems because that is the first port of call.” After the system has been strengthened, then it can link up with other institutions like the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) which are working in this area (commercial sex work), and promote the empowerment of girls and women who are into this profession or give support.
Mrs. Aboagye, who has worked extensively with prostitutes over the years, also believes that prostitutes can be reformed and integrated into society if issue or matter is approached properly. She summarizes it as follows
“To be able to help someone in a consistent manner and with empathy, there is the need to ensure a structure to put them into, a counselling service, a ready place for them to fend for themselves. It takes a process to change people who are in trouble but don’t even know they are in trouble. A process of insight, a process that brings understanding, a process leading to a relationship” are all necessary.
As regards prostitution on social media, lawyer Angela Dwamena Aboagye admits she has heard about it and even recounted her experience on the issue. She says that as far as her knowledge of this kind of technology goes, the legal owners of these sites have a way of blocking things. She advises users of Facebook to take up the challenge to report “social media prostitute” advertisers to the legal owners of the site with a view to blocking them.
In view of the foregoing, Facebook users are advised to bear in mind that the next time they receive a friendly request from a lady or a gentleman on Facebook or get attracted by a lady’s picture on social media, they may be entertaining a “hooker.”
Unlike the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman” wherein Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) fell in love with Vivian, the “hooker” (Julia Roberts), and upgraded her status to that of the wife of a billionaire, this movie scenario simply doesn’t happen in real life, so be careful whose friendship request you accept on social media, bearing in mind that homosexual activities is also on the rise! But, who knows? One may well fall in love and marry a “hooker” in our part of the world.
By Eyra Doe