The journey towards the decriminalization and destigmatization of sex work in Nigeria has been a length field one as it faces strong opposition from numerous conservative and religious minds.
●15th December 2022
Sex work has divided opinions for the longest time. All around the world, there’s always been differences in opinions about the legality and morality of the profession. Nigeria isn’t excluded. Many sex workers here constantly face severe forms of abuse and discrimination as they are victims of harassment and unjust punishments by law enforcement agencies that apply administrative offenses. According to the Nigerian constitution, sex work itself is not criminalized but it is illegal for workers to gain monetary benefits from it and those caught in the act are liable for punishment. In Northern states, the punishment is so punitive that it calls for the stoning of the person found guilty.
The journey towards the decriminalization and destigmatization of sex work in Nigeria has been a length field one as it faces strong opposition from numerous conservative and religious minds. Due to its Illegal nature, the industry operates discreetly, leaving workers vulnerable and susceptible to threats to their safety and without access to basic things like health and social services.
The industry, however, has seen a boom in recent years as a result of the growing number of youths and aged people who are faced with the inability to find other sources of income in Nigeria’s recessive economy. A person should have the right to ‘sell’ their body to a client as much as they can ‘sell’ their brain to a Law firm.
The commercial market for sex workers is structured in a variegated and complex manner with factors like the various working conditions and prices put in mind and thereby creating a hierarchical system. At the top are high-class call girls usually with a wealthy clientele list and a refined lifestyle. The movie Glamour Girls is an accurate depiction of this.
The average brothel worker in metropolitan cities, more often than not, falls into the middle class and at the bottom chain are the sex workers in rural slum areas. Adanma, a 25-year-old sex worker in Abuja, shares some personal insights on sex work in Nigeria:
“I consider my job to be a respectable means of income and I use it to fend for my family.I joined this in August 2020 and was introduced to it by a friend in my hunt to find a job. I face a lot of judgment from people and despite this, I find it funny that the industry is saturated with competition as more people join every day. “At the beginning of my career, I used to stand by the roadside to find willing customers but I rarely do this anymore as I have racked up a regular clientele and get contacted when needed and I usually service at least ten clients per week.”
On some of the dangers that she faces regularly she says “One imminent danger that we regularly face is that we are at high risk of sexually transmitted diseases although I do my best to stay safe by going for checkups and taking necessary precautions, we can never be too sure. We get constantly harassed in different ways by the police and are mostly unable to fight back. I always make sure to do a background check before I meet a new client due to the high rate of abuse, body harvesting, and human trafficking done to people in my field.”
Adanma speaks on the common misconception that people have about her, and by extension, sex workers: “People always have this misconception that we are brazen people with low virtue who ply an unholy trade without a sense of purpose and it is disappointing when I get profiled and ostracized. I have battled with suicidal thoughts in the course of all this, some of my coworkers are the hardest working people I’ve met with strong business acumen. We don’t deserve to be prejudiced and I hope that one day we will get our much-needed rights.”
Although some sex workers like Adanma are still relying on patrons by the roadside, many have decided to take their business to social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook which are believed to be more classy, profitable, and safe. They make use of their platforms to attract clients in coded forms and they often have terms and conditions with disclaimers.
Ruth who is a 28-year-old commercial sex worker in Lagos offers her services through social media platforms and speaks on her experiences and how she started:
“It has been over three years since I started offering my services online. I used to work under an abusive Madam who extorted me but I decided to take matters into my own hands and become an entrepreneur. I put a lot of creativity behind my posts and sometimes don’t receive the same energy. When I get contacted by clients for services I usually try to do an online background check to prevent facing risks.
“One scary thing about being a digital sex worker in Nigeria is that by putting myself out there in the general public, I get a lot of hate comments and judgment online and offline as I’ve become a recognizable wayward figure of some sort.” she adds, speaking of the dangers and misconceptions that she faces on a regular basis.
“I’m often unable to use my platform to speak on societal issues because I’m presumed to be a dunce. I can remember calling out the unjust abuse meted out by the police and getting life-threatening messages in return. Just recently in Delta state someone in my profession was strangled and stabbed to death.”
When asked what she wants to see in the future regarding her job she says “I sincerely hope that one day we can unpack the discrimination that sex workers face and that justice is served on behalf of those who have been abused in this line of work.”
Perhaps one day, these women can live a life without fear of prejudice and discrimination, but for now they have to conform to society’s rules.
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