Trigger warning: Many readers may find the following accounts to be graphic and/or disturbing.
In August a team of volunteers spent the month visiting the city, Johannesburg to speak to some of the prostitutes on the city streets. This is a weekly and monthly outreach that takes place in our city.
This is Fikile’s* story which we heard on one of our night time outreaches.
For blocks and blocks, every street has about five fires, surrounding which wait about three to five women and oftentimes a man who is managing or looking after them. These streets filled with fires stretch on as far as the eye can see: there are numerous women waiting for clients on a Saturday evening. Sometimes a woman will go home with as little as R60.00. Some women are open to conversation whilst others are not willing to talk, concerned about scaring off potential business.
On this particular evening, we met a woman with ragged scars along her forearms, reminders of her failed suicide attempt some years back that also left her with a disabled right hand. Fikile fought back tears of anger as she described to us an assault on her and another woman the night just prior, where men had held them down and raped them. Fikile said she was held in a chokehold and was left unconscious when the men ran away. Rape and assault cases like these are unlikely to be reported to the police due to the nature of prostitution. Her one-year-old daughter, whom she thought was safe at home, was raped on multiple occasions by a family member before she realised that the rapes were occurring. Many women like Fikile leave children at home in the evenings – sometimes they do not make enough money to go home again and need to wait on the dangerous city streets until the end of the following evening to go home to their children.
Fikile went on to describe her addiction to Nyaope that kept her looking for business although she did not want to work on the streets. She had tried twice to break her addiction but without success. Nyaope, or Whoonga, is a South African drug that is inhaled or injected and often consists of rat poison, sugar, baby powder, pool cleaner, bicarbonate of soda and washing powder. Many women on the streets of Hillbrow have one addiction or another. If they themselves are not alcoholics or addicted to substances such as Nyaope, sometimes their children are, and they steal whatever earnings are made by their mothers to feed their addiction. Women who are being sold for sex have explained that they use substances to numb the emotional pain of sleeping with multiple strangers in a night. Others who are trafficked are forced into addictions to keep them close to their handler and under his or her control.
Although it was a difficult evening, hearing painful stories like Fikile’s, the ladies seemed grateful to have open ears and open hearts with whom they could share their stories. Hope Risen will continue to fight against injustices against women and use volunteer-based visits like these to build relationships with women who need support, looking to find opportunities to help them create a new life for themselves.
*Not her real name