Here follows the testimony of a Prostitution Survivor Champion, Hildah.
Hildah advocates against Human Trafficking, Gender Based Violence and the system of Prostitution. She is a young, vibrant, ambitious and passionate lady, who is driven to campaign for the liberation of women.
“My scars, pains and wounds are my strength. I am not a victim, nor a survivor – I am a champion”.
She was in the system of Prostitution for nine years, which she describes as her “worst nightmare”. She was living on the streets, in brothels, in truck stops, as well as bars and night clubs. This lifestyle continued despite rain, sunshine, cold and wind.
It was what she believed she could do in order to put food on her table – providing her body to various men of different races, including married men, single men and high-profile men; also physically disabled men, wealthy businessmen, drug junkies and even the unemployed – old and young.
Hildah comments that “Prostitution was the only option I believed I had, especially when no other options seemed possible – prostitution is neither ‘work’ nor a ‘choice’”.
“I’ve been in different provinces and have met different ladies in prostitution, and none of them has ever told me that they enjoy, love or like working in Prostitution. Deep down I knew what they were saying, as if they had read my mind… I said: God, please help me. This is not the life I want to live… All of us wanted to get out, but we had something in common, which was our background and expectations of a better life. However, these are what led us into prostitution, immediately we got into it, we wanted OUT… due to the trauma, we got ourselves into a lifetime of imprisonment.
“I really wanted to cry out loud, but remained in silence. Not knowing where to start, the fear of dealing with the healing process, as well as the pains of my addictions – alcohol, cigarettes, weed, cocaine and other drugs… sex buyers became the ultimate answer to “earn” some money.
“I was a high school drop-out; a single mother with two beautiful daughters, but with no working experience… so one thinks to oneself: Who will employ me and for what?”
These situations make it very difficult for people such as Hildah to exit the system of prostitution.
“The amount of money I received through prostitution was enough for us to at least survive. However, what I was going through to get that money was a very traumatic experience – physically, emotionally and psychologically… I felt like I was living in hell. Behind a closed door and in a brothel with a sex buyer, is the worst possible experience, which I do not wish upon anyone! The fear of not knowing what will happen to you following the sex act – you may get killed or die a painful death, for no reason, or receive a painful punishment for not wanting to do what the sex buyer wants. Sex buyers are often monsters behind those closed doors”.
One day Hildah met a lady from Belgium – Catherine Restiau – Founder of the Iris Dignity Project. Catherine was busy with street outreaches and brothel outreaches to women in prostitution in Nelspruit. Catherine approached Hildah and asked her whether she could pray for her, which she agreed to. Hildah was very angry, bitter, aggressive, feeling lonely, loveless and unworthy.
“I felt like a disgrace to motherhood, as I am the only child. I was angry at every living thing and human being. I was even angry at our Creator. But after Catherine prayed for me, it felt like something had left me. She asked me to learn how to forgive, because Jesus loves me and He died for my sins on the Cross… that I am worthy, loved and special in God’s Eyes. I also asked for prayer to help me stop my substance abuse.
“I couldn’t afford to pay my rent at the brothel, which was R4500 per month. I had to buy food as well, as we couldn’t cook at the brothel. The luxuries of having alcohol and cigarettes every day, also added to the problem. At times, I had to buy myself clothes, as I didn’t have time to wash the clothes I had. I had to move from the brothel without anything, as I owed on my rent. I went to stay with a friend and I managed to raise the funds to pay the brothel owner. I was then able to get all my things back.
“Life went on and I tried to escape prostitution. I then dated a man who was not good for me – he was physically very abusive. I reported him and did everything I thought possible to get him to stay away from me. However, this turned out badly and I nearly killed him. I was charged with attempted murder. However, with all the police evidence, as well as my medical report, the case was dismissed and he was sentenced for domestic violence, violation of bail, as well as violation of the protection order against him.
“Years later I met Catherine again and by that time I was working as a Site Co-ordinator, under the sex worker programme of an organisation called SWEAT. There I was advocating that “sex is work”. However, deep down in my heart I knew that I was lying. I desperately wanted to leave the entire system of prostitution – the trauma was too hard to handle. Stress and depression were pushing me towards becoming suicidal. I was offered a salary at SWEAT instead of selling my body, but I still had sleepless nights knowing very well that I was not being truthful to myself. I was benefitting from those who were still trapped as prostituted persons, and I knew that they did not want to be there, but were forced by their circumstances.
“I was doing my work in the name of “health education and prevention” by providing condoms and lubricants to them. I simply convinced myself that it was at least better that sleeping with many different men. I knew very well that prostitutes have a high population rate of HIV and TB which increases every year! Prostitutes become more vulnerable as targets of any organisation dealing with Health Reproductive Education: HIV & TB, ARVs, Contraceptives and PREP.
“One day I heard about a Restoration Camp hosted by Iris Dignity. I attended the camp and returned sober minded. I stopped smoking and drinking. I became the child I used to dream about while growing up. I resigned my job at SWEAT. I started braiding hair for a living and four months later I was appointed as the Personal Assistant to the CEO at Iris Dignity. I also became a motivational speaker for their Prostitution Exit Programme. I felt alive again and went back to meet my sister, who was struggling for to exit the prostitution system.
“Following more Restoration Camps and being able to offer living testimony to the system of
prostitution, I was appointed as the Exit Programme Project Manager. I was also training another survivor of the prostitution system, to take over from me the day I leave. I attended many Youth Empowerment and Development programmes, to equip and further myself.
“I am now married to Mr Maseko, who is a very loving and caring husband. I am now a wife, a mother and a daughter to my family! I advocate for what we call “The Equality Model”, which aims to:
• End men’s violence against women
• End the buying of women and girls for sexual exploitation
• Educate people that buying women and girls for sex is wrong
• Discourage men from buying women and girls for sex acts
• Shift the stigma and burden of criminality from prostitutes to sex buyers
• Support the Exit Programme
• End Sex Trafficking
The system of prostitution undermines human rights and it violates international human rights laws. It also undermines gender equality, as it entrenches and perpetuates inequality. Prostitution increases the demand for trafficking.
“None of us grow up dreaming of becoming sex slaves” – Hildah (Survivor of the Prostitution System)
I pray that the above story will touch many hearts and change many minds, especially around the prostitution debate. There are countless more stories such as Hildah’s. We need to know the facts before we can make our own judgement on this topic. I have made mine – prostituted people need to be protected, and buyers and facilitators need to remain illegal – they have to be held strictly accountable – Exit Programmes need to be provided for prostituted people – prostitution needs to be eliminated in our beautiful South Africa!
May we love our neighbour as ourselves, in all circumstances and in all areas of life.
With love in Christ, Tershia.
Tershia de Klerk Managing Director of The Joseph Movement NPC