Say pimp and switched on glossarists immediately think of a cheesy middle aged man donning a top hat, trench coat, walking stick and shiny pointy shoes which the urban dictionary aptly described as a Person into Marketing Prostitutes (PIMP). This is the archetypical image that prowled the American streets in the 90s. In Botswana, a cabal of young men has added a crocked twist to the business by pimping Female Sex Workers (FSW) whilst masquerading as boyfriends, swindling the ladies out of their hard earned cash which they literally had to bend over backwards to get.
Tosh Beka, founder and Executive Director of SISONKE Botswana, an organization advocating for the safety of Sex Workers, told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that Botswana men’s penchant for pimping their “girlfriends” is a growing into a trend. Beka explained that, “they target foreigners who they can easily swindle out of their money or even spend it on trivial pursuits like drugs and alcohol.” These Pimps escort the sex workers to their respective Hotspots under the pretext that they will be providing security as most of the ladies are vulnerable to sexual and physical violence from clients or thugs in the streets.
Just like a regular 9 to 5, Beka considers sex work to be a job for which the worker should be remunerated accordingly without any intermediaries more so that they do all the work. SISONKE is therefore against the whole pimp set up. Through advocacy from Sisonke, local female sex workers are empowered with skills of how to take better care of themselves especially regarding their sexual reproductive health.
The Biological &Behavioral Surveillance Survey (BBSS) of 2013 classified Female Sex Workers as one of the ‘Key Populations’ of highly stigmatized groups which are regarded to partake in behaviors that carry biological risks of HIV transmission due to a high number of sexual partners. When conducting the study, through random sampling, 4000 respondents from 3 districts across the country indicated that there was a prevalence HIV rate of 61.9% and an incidence rate of 12.5%. Most of the sex workers operate from hotspots which sell alcoholic beverages thus most of their clients are from there thus making the consistent safe use of condoms during this transactional intercourse quite a task. The BBSS also indicates that most of these clients are family men; they therefore act as a bridge between the sex workers and the general population despite their risky behavior.
Beka explained that they at Sisonke have established through their various interactions with sex workers in trainings and workshops that sex workers provide a menu for their clients. From this menu a client is able to choose the package that will give them their money’s worth, making embellishments within reason. “We empower these ladies to refuse to partake in any sexual activities without condoms regardless of the amount of money put on the table by the client,” says Beka citing that not only do they risk infecting their clients, getting infected by their clients there is the even worse evil of re-infection which is harder to deal with medically.
Beka made reference to a recent incident where a sex worker was found dead in the bush after being sexually assaulted by clients. An atrocity that could have been avoided had she followed the teachings from Sisonke which urge them to never enter an unmarked car or agree to leave with more than one man in a vehicle.
Beka stated that, “these ladies are skilled at relieving stress and some of the packages include massages which can be therapeutic leaving the man to go home in a better mood than he was before he was serviced.”