THE COVID-19-induced lockdown may have brought many businesses to their knees, but innovation has kept others going and commercial sex workers have not been left out in embracing technology to eke a living.
Like other businesses, commercial sex workers turned to technology for survival in an environment where they could not go onto the streets to solicit for sex.
Since government had not recognised them as essential service providers, for Shylet Zigora, (not her real name), it was a case of “innovate or die”.
“It was a case of survival and there was little we could do, but to devise a new strategy.
“We created a lot of WhatsApp groups to market ourselves and our clients would find ways to come to us or facilitate that we go to them. It worked,” she said
NewsDay unearthed various social media groups for sex workers which include Facebook and WhatsApp, among other platforms.
Several websites were created including Escort Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Sex Workers Alliance spokesperson Tony Carter said they faced many challenges which forced them to resort to digital platforms to scout for clients.
“Challenges include police brutality and the shortage of ‘work’ due to the global pandemic (COVID-19) lockdown which has increased poverty,” he said.
“However, there are many measures that can be put in place to ensure the safety and protection of sex workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Cater added: “In some cases, as some customers even failed to pay the little amount, bargaining for even lower prices. With Escort Zimbabwe, I have managed to set my standards a little bit higher and I earn about US$30 per session.
“Transactional sex on the website is way too beneficial. I make much more dollars than what I used to make on the streets. The website provides me with a platform to meet as many men as I can, thereby helping me raise more money.
“I also get a chance to choose the activities I can engage in and how much I want for the sessions involved. It is so much different from the days when we used to stand in the street and be exposed to dirty and violent men.”
Coming from a conservative farming background in Mutorashanga, Talia (18), who stays in Cranborne, Harare, said she did not complete her secondary education due to financial constraints. Her parents died and left her as the sole breadwinner, looking after her two siblings.
This forced her into sex work.
“Sex work in the streets has always been a bargain with no guarantee for survival and adequate remuneration. I would always go out with expectations of either a good or bad day. When I was in the streets, I would earn a measly US$5 for short time whereas US$10 was for the whole night,” she said.
Another commercial worker, 22-year-old Mandy, said: “Since I have started this business, my pockets have never run dry. This is by far the most lucrative business where men approach you in confidence and pay without any excuses.
“I am currently in a good space and I do not see myself exiting this website or this profession anytime soon. My son has managed to go to school and I have constantly managed to keep up with the payments of both his school fees and other bills.”
All Women Advocacy director Hazel Zemura said the dire economic situation where sex workers were no longer benefiting from traditional prostituting had driven them over the edge, with poverty forcing them to turn digital.
“Sex workers are women who are suffering and tick on most of the boxes on the characteristics of poverty, joblessness, hunger and illiteracy,” she said
Zemura said taking sex online was a risky business since most sex workers were not used to social media being a new normal.
“There are so many challenges of cyberbullying, cyber-security and revenge porn where they are brutally exposed, thereby traumatising them in the process and jeopardising their career.”