Having worked the streets for years, hawking their bodies with nothing to show but pain, anguish and emptiness, they have decided to change their ways, but, first, they need help to make their dream of quitting come true. Gboyega Alaka who had an audience with six determined women, reports.
THEY are three young women; well, six. But only three could summon the courage to voice out their pain- a pain they’ve borne for years, submitting themselves, albeit unwillingly, to men, for survival. Their names: Cynthia, Bolanle, with age ranging between 18 and 26. They all sounded used, defeated empty and gasping for lifeline. A common decimal factor, if one were to assess them mathematically, would be regret. Regret for years badly spent, wasted; with nothing to show, except hurtful memories of brutalisation, rape, gang-rape; memories of being cheated and exploited by sundry men who capitalise on their vulnerability to sexually exploit them, while reneging on prior agreements; memories of misery, of poverty, of nothingness and uncertainty of a next meal.
It is for this reasons that they’ve all gathered in Etiennete Ajoluje’s apartment in Idasho, Ibeju-Lekki, not too far from the springing Dangote Refinery. Ajoluje, by the way, is a young social worker fast making a name for herself, rescuing and rehabilitating the destitute and people in need. And their resolve is to quit the murky waters of commercial sex trade and start a new life. But they need help, as it is the only means of making money that they know and they fear they may be forced to go back when hunger and hardship comes calling.
Said Ajoluje, who runs the NGO, Harriett Majemite Foundation: “I was on my way home one day, when one of them stopped me. Apparently, she had got wind of what I do, coupled with the inscription on the top I was wearing, which had the inscription: Help A Stranger. She approached me and started telling me this is what she does, that she needed help to quit. She said she had other friends in the same trade who are also willing to quit, but no way out, because it is their only means of livelihood.”
To shield their identity, this writer has opted to stick with just their first names ad avoid physical description as much as possible.
JOY, It’s a life of ruin
Because there are two Joys in the group, we shall call her Joy1. However, her case is far from being joyful.
A mere 20-year-old, Joy1 claimed she has been in the commercial sex trade since she was 14. Her friend, she said, introduced her to six years ago.
“She was doing it and I saw that she was making money, taking care of herself and looking good; at least much better than I was. Anytime she came around, she would be regaling me with stories of how she was making money and taking care of herself.”
So she became jealous or envious?
“No, not jealousy; it all boiled down to my condition at the time. I wanted to have money like her, to be able to take care of myself.”
Didn’t she have parents? Opting to go into prostitution at 14 based on her reasons seemed weird.
“I had but my father didn’t care about taking care of any child. He is late now. All he cared about was that I should go and make money, go and get married. Mum tried her best but she was not strong enough.”
Consequently, Joy1, who said she was born and bred in Ibeju-Lekki area of Lagos, said she dropped out of school in JSS3.
Asked to recall some of her horrible experience on the job, Joy1 said, “All. Everything I have experienced on the job has been bad. I have never enjoyed it one bit.”
When reminded that this negates the impression most people who see them standing by the roadside hawking their trade have, she shook her head in disagreement.
“Not at all. There is nothing to enjoy on this job. It is a job full of regret. I usually feel very bad whenever I come back from a job. To make matters worse, some men would even finish with you and not give you anything. Sometimes, they will only buy you food, and when you wake up in the morning and demand for your money, they would just change it for you and start threatening to beat you up or kill. Sometimes, the crazy ones would actually beat you up and throw you out, if you as much as put up any resistance.”
Asked how many men she gets to service per day, she sighed and delved into a diatribe: ” It’s not about the number of me that pick you. There are days you carry ten me and only two will give you money. It’s a world of cheats, dehumanisation and torture. It’s a life of ruin, where you watch your life evading you, yet you go back the next day, all because you need to put something in your mouth. Yes, a few may have been lucky, but the truth is, it is not and can never be a lucrative job.”
Even though she said most of her clients use condom as protection, which is why she has never had any STD nor got infected with HIV, she admitted to having her horror moments, when the condoms break. On such occasions, she said she immediately takes drugs to flush her system.
In summary, Bolanle feels she has been ruining her life and wants out. She is 20 and knows she’s still young enough to make a better life for herself but she’s hampered by finance.
Her plea: “Please, if you know any good Samaritan or NGO willing to help, an ready to quit and never go back to the streets. I would love to learn fashion designing.”
Cynthia, Warri girl
According to Cynthia, 26, her journey into the murky world of sex trade took roots back in Warri, Delta State, where the poverty in her home was excruciating.
“My parents were poor and there was nobody to take care of me.”
To make matters worse, her father died when she was a mere 15-year-old. Inevitably, she dropped out of school in SS1. Her attempt to learn tailoring and arm herself with a skill also met with frustration in the hands of her boss.
“I was being maltreated. My boss practically turned me into a house-help. She loaded me with all sorts of house chores. I was the one who washed her clothes, her children’s clothes, cleaned the house and did all her dirty house chores. The whole thing became so frustrating and I had to quit.”
If only she knew what laid in wait for her.
She tried her hand on a salesgirl’s job in a restaurant, and though she got meagre cash reward of 500 naira per day, Jennifer recalled that it was not enough for her upkeep. Her only compensation was that the restaurant doubled as her accommodation.
Life was becoming more excruciating by the day, as she claimed the pay was not regular and nobody to lean on for survival.
It didn’t take long for her to be introduced into prostitution. “A group of girls used to patronise us; gradually I became friends with them and one of them introduced me into the business.”
Recalling that she was a virgin at the time, she said she felt deep pain that she had to lose such valuable possession literally for free.
“Let me not lie to you, it wasn’t in any way a better life. Sometimes, they just gave you food money; sometimes, just noodles and egg. And they would use you anyhow. Sometimes, they would camp you for days and eventually throw you out with nothing. On the best of days, the highest money I ever got paid was 500 naira.”
Eventually she got wind of Lagos. There, she was told, money flowed and she would make real good money in the trade. Pronto, she borrowed money and relocated in 2015. But did her fortune change?
Cynthia’s answer was a grim ‘No’.
“I’d say nothing has changed. There is nothing in this prostitution work, nothing at all. Sometimes, you would be picked by men who would use you and chase you out with a knife. On other occasions, one man would pick you but you will end up sleeping with three or four, sometimes, five additional men, without any additional pay. On some very bad occasions, some would even pick you up with the sole purpose of raping and robbing you. I have been robbed of my phone in the course of this job. And there is nobody to help you fight your battle, not even the police. So my advice is, let no innocent girl be lured into this trade. Like they say, ‘Ashewo no be work.”
She has even been pregnant once, but aborted it because she was not ready to bring a baby without a father to the world.
It is for this reason that she made up her mind to quit. “I am tired of this life. It is a life of torture. All I want now is to learn a trade and start a meaningful life, preferably tailoring; I’ll be very happy if I can get help.”
Wouldn’t she be tempted to go back to the streets while learning the tailoring, especially when hunger comes knocking?
Her answer: “Nothing can bring me back to this job.”
BOLANLE, Awaiting motherhood
21-year-old heavily pregnant Bolanle should put to bed anytime soon. But for her, it’s not such a thing of joy, as she claimed she does not know who impregnated her. Well, maybe more like, the man responsible has denied it.
“He deceived me. He told me he loved me, that he would marry me. As a result, I gave him my body and never charged him for sex, like I did other men. I also stopped using condom with him and that was why I got pregnant. But when it happened, he denied it and ran away, saying he was not responsible.”
Asked if this could be because he was aware of her profession, Chichi said, “Maybe; he’s aware I operate from a hotel and actually came to sleep with me there. He claimed he worked at Dangote Refinery.”
Was he generous to her while their relationship lasted?
“Not much. Sometimes, he gave N1000, sometimes N2000; sometimes, N500; sometimes he bought me clothes. And he never made out that he was ashamed of me, as we sometimes took strolls together. He even took me to his friend’s place. Unfortunately, that one does not reside there again; and he never took me to his house.”
How then does she manage to feed, especially as she declared that the pregnancy is in its ninth month? Or do men still find her desirable in her state?
“No, the last time I had any customer was when it was three months and hadn’t started showing. Right now, my friends pull resources together to make sure I don’t go hungry. I need help. I met Madam Etiennete (Ajoluje) through friends who told me that she helps people in difficult situations. Although I still live in the hotel (brothel), I am tired and ready to quit. Even in my situation, they still require me to pay for my accommodation. I’ve met Madam Etiennete for over a week now and she has been trying to get us help. Please (turning to this reporter), if there is any way you can get help for me, I would be happy.
Prostitution is not a good thibgs to engage in. it kills self worth thereby relegating one’s personality to mud.
Young gilrs who condescends themselves so low to do prostitution work usually ends up either sick or killed in the process.
They faces a lot of kife challenging, ranging from health complicated issues to living a rotten lifestyle.