Sex workers are constantly subject to the disapproval of almost everyone they encounter, but studies show that prostitution is not a choice
Sex workers are constantly subject to the disapproval of almost everyone they encounter, be it family members, the authorities or even, at times, their own clients. But prostitution is not a choice for most of these women – in fact, research finds that the majority of South African sex workers turn to the trade as a last resort when times get unimaginably tough.
Extreme poverty forces vulnerable women into this profession – where they are at risk of abuse, exploitation and serious health dangers on a daily basis – but individual and societal challenges make it nearly impossible for them to escape. Yet sex workers continue to be subject to the disdain of others, which only serves to exacerbate their already poor public image.
Understandably, being made to feel worthless and ashamed can lead to significant psychological issues and this, combined with the violence and health risks of the profession, is mentally, emotionally and physically damaging for these women. The fact then that most sex workers see no way out means they are forced to remain in the vicious cycle of prostitution, poverty and fear.
While the situation is undeniably grim, there are community empowerment initiatives that work to provide sex workers with help they need to escape the ‘trap’ of prostitution. Cape Town-based Embrace Dignity is one such initiative, which actively lobbies for the partial criminalisation of the South African sex trade and the urgent need for law and policy reform to regulate, prevent, deter and reduce prostitution.
The organisation advocates that it is not the actions of the sex workers – the ‘victims’ – that should be criminalised but rather those of the pimps, brothel-keepers, traffickers and sometimes clients, who keep the trade alive. Through job-skills training, it seeks to create economic opportunities for sex workers seeking a way out and also works to empower these women by teaching them ways to increase their self worth and develop a sense of identity.
If you believe strongly in our power to grow as a society through helping those less fortunate overcome their difficult circumstances, then you may be well suited to a career in counselling. The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a wide range of counselling courses, including a Diploma in Counselling as well as a Bachelor of Psychology Degree. For more information, enquire now.