Call her “Ashawo!!!” [ɑ:ʃɑ:wəʊ], “Ashee” for short.
Call her Ashawo as she slaves through her nightshift trying to make ends meet.
Call her Ashawo still when she suddenly realizes her ‘client’ is a wild beast who ties her up and rapes her into unconsciousness, she deserves it.
Call her Ashawo when some more strangers take turns on her while making her the latest video vixen.
Call her Ashawo when she gets beat up and dumped on the streets with no money or food; where she is rounded up by the police who take up the baton of humiliating her.
Call her Ashawo when you see her body floating under the Third Mainland bridge, both breasts gone. That’s all she ever was – Ashawo, the nuisance.
My friend Vweta asked “How do we get justice for prostitutes who face violence?” and someone replied sarcastically: “How do we get justice for armed robbers who are mobbed? It got me thinking. While mobbing or jungle justice (as we’ve named it) is such a horror I am at this time, concerned about the violence prostitutes (a.k.a Commercial sex workers) in Nigeria face.
For starters, PROSTITUTION IS NOT A CRIME IN NIGERIA – not unless you are in a jurisdiction which operates under the penal code where it is a punishable offence. Asides that, Nigeria is a society that is simply socially intolerant of prostitutes.
I am aware that we are a deeply moral and religious people. Christianity frowns upon prostitution as being immoral although not beyond forgiveness. Islamic States and communities see prostitution as a crime against the community punishable by some jail term or death. This, however, doesn’t make a prostitute any less a member of the egalitarian society Nigeria claims to have.
This is the reason I think deeply each time I go past a long parade of those beautiful young ladies, dressed to tempt, and poised like beautiful jewelry behind a display glass standing on the streets. I delve mentally into a world of limited or no choices where societies have commercialized the bodies of women. I’m sometimes privileged to see some of their admirers or patrons. Like hungry lions, some approach, drooling over their prey. Some, non-chalant about the piece of rag they have to make do with for the night. Others stop by for the usual, and a few newcomers with hopes and aspirations of tasting “the forbidden fruit”.
One thing, however, one never sees in some of these people is the callous intention to strip these ladies of their right to consensual sex or self-determination or even integrity. My friend Vweta witnessed first-hand, a ‘client’ beating up and striping a certain prostitute because she asked for remuneration for work done through the night. There was a situation at a motel near my house, where a notorious prostitute was brutally raped and deserted by a man she spent the night with and had to get stitches in her perineum afterwards. People who heard her story condemned her for being a prostitute…rather than speaking up against the ordeal she had suffered (very typical of our victim-blaming society. As if these women intentionally sign up to be used as specimen to demonstrate violence against women) We see, read or hear about these things every day.
When asked what she would do if she were to be raped for instance, a certain prostitute I had the rare privilege of chatting with said (in Yoruba) : “Rape is bad for business but if it happens I would clean up myself and move on because nobody will believe me. Besides, who will I tell that a man I initially agreed to have sex with me raped me? The police? That is if they don’t ask me for their own share of sexual pleasure“
A good number of prostitutes are arrested by the police, locked up and forced to have sex (most times unprotected). Some are even beaten up, while some are murdered by other miscreants for various reasons… and disposed like toilet paper.
Violence against a prostitute is violence against a woman and it is a crime. A prostitute is a HUMAN BEING with basic human rights. Whether it be the right to consensual sex, I mean, the right to say NO even when ‘you’ are pants down, ready for action! Or the right to protection of her life and property.
The fact that an alarming number of prostitutes are abused and can’t cry for help, because the society readily condemns them, makes them an easy prey. Prostitutes are less likely to be searched for by the police if they go missing and this makes them the preferred meal on the menu of kidnappers.
Why then do we scream about the rising numbers of rapists, pimps, ritualists, pedophiles and other evil doers when we indirectly promote their evil doings? Why is Nigeria divided in reasoning with regards to prostitution? Could it be that our patrilineal society still suffers from the need to dominate and use women? Aren’t we hypocrites by patronizing these women at night and condemning them as soon as the sun lights up the world for all to see?
In search for answers I have thrown these questions out at various groups of people – some of whom argue that if prostitution is legalized (as proposed by Senator Ike Ekweremadu in 2011), tested and licensed, their activities will be regulated. There would be a structure to address cases of rape and other violence perpetuated against them without prejudice. Another school of thought fears for the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, as well as increased trafficking of women and children for prostitution and paedophilia.
Moreover, what legacy will we be laying down for the next generation? That it is okay to give up decent dreams and become a licensed prostitute? Methinks not!
Analysing prostitution in Nigeria is like opening Pandora’s box. Dealing with the innumerable root causes like poverty, unemployment, bad or ignorant parenting, lazy youths, and the likes will go a long way in making prostitution a less viable means of livelihood.
Until then, I ask you, how do we get justice for these women who suffer in silence, while their abusers who might very well be our husbands, fathers, brothers, political leaders, false prophets walk freely?
Do you think prostitutes deserve to enjoy the “privilege” of getting justice for crimes perpetuated against them?
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Maxfx