‘No more sex work’

Their stories of how they got initiated into prostitution all differ. Their reasons for remaining, however, are strikingly similar. Now they want out of the life of secrecy, ever-present danger, and the sisterhood of pain they have courted for years.

An offer to be certified and employed through a partnership forged between non-profit organisation Pursued International and HEART/NTA Trust was snapped up by 20 women of varying ages who say they have had their fill of life on the streets in the Corporate Area.

“I just need to stop and try something else, not saying I’m ungrateful to the work, because it really brings me to this, but mi just need a change; for the kids, too, and everything because thru’ them a grow up, I can’t let them just see me a live dem type a way here,” said a 43-year-old woman who responded to the offer and one of three who spoke to the Jamaica Observer.

The woman, a mother of two young adults, said she got hooked while in her 20s after visiting a popular Kingston nightclub and seeing how the women there made their earnings.

Tearfully, her hands over her face, she said she was forced to confess what she did for a living to her two sons, unwilling to let them hear it first-hand from people in their community.

“We know it’s not good, ennuh, even though it helps. We throw little partner [informal banking arrangement], and so on, but I always ask myself why I have to choose that work? I don’t like the work,” she admitted.

“Don’t cry, be strong,” one friend, the youngest of the three, urged her.

While she struggled to regain her composure, her other friend, a 37-year-old mother of four, chimed in: “Anybody who doesn’t get emotional about this work are people who do not want to stop. People in the streets don’t respect us, and dem even disrespect wi pickney dem too.”

“Many times I think about it and, just like how she a talk to you and break down, it just break me down. But at the end of the day it provide, and many times you tell yourself that you not going back, and you stop for a while, and you end up going back because of the help that you don’t have,” she said.

“The people who don’t want to stop, it is like nothing to them, but people who want to stop, it hurt them feelings,” she added.

Asked why she felt she did not have options, she said, “Because mi try. It’s not like I am just on di streets and tell my mind seh I am just going to sell my body and that’s it. I try other things — try send back myself a school three times; push handcart and sell things; when gully work a run, I am down in the gully cleaning it; walk up and down in hot sun and sell illegal Cash Pot and it don’t work out and you have your children sending to school.

“I try that life already, try let go the road, but it didn’t work out. I had to choose them over me at the end of the day, because is not you again when you have children; it’s all about them, so I have to live for them,” she insisted.

Mindful that she is getting older, the 37-year-old said she is tired of leading a double life for her children, whom she describes as “smart”. Unlike her colleague, she has not told her children what she does for a living.

“When they ask, I tell them that I work in a bar,” she said.

She said utterances from her older son which made her realise he had guessed what she did for a living pushed her to return to school.

“My spirit just break. Mi think dem never know,” she confessed.

The pain it causes for their children haunts all three women.

“If you and my big son arguing and you tell him that him mother do this and that, him a go war; it tick him off,” the 43-year-old mother said emphatically.

The 37-year-old interjected: “This job makes people who are not even in a position to look down on you look down on you. This work here brings a whole heap of disadvantage. Only a person who loves this job is going to talk about it and boast. It is a life of shadows, humiliation, and risk.”

“The other day they killed one of our co-workers; cut her throat and all a that. It very risky, nobody is going to defend us. Nobody is going to stand up for us. When they put us on the Internet a pure dirty comment; when cars pass and you stand up on the road somebody have to say something. Dem throw all rubbish on we; sometimes I say, ‘A this mi really leave my yard for?'” she said.

“Sometimes I feel like fi jus’ bawl and don’t stop,” she confided, adding that her biggest concern is financing her four children, two of whom attend private schools.

She said that, in addition to people looking down on them, there are men who solicit their services and refuse to pay.

“I want to stop; I just put everything to God,” the youngest chimed in.

“You are caught up in a trap. I know that different work out there can do, but it is the fast money, that’s why we come back to the road; the quick money. And a it a mash wi up,” the 43-year-old confessed.

They are pinning their hopes on completing the training in the areas they selected in order to turn their backs on the streets and the men who fill their pockets but for whom they have disdain.

“It makes me hate men. I was abused by my father, but that’s not what made me hate men, a just the job that I do and the type a men that we deal with and the disrespect we have to take from them,” one of the women recounted.

She said even though she was raped by her father as a child, she was still able to separate him from the men who use her body.

“I put in my mind that is circumstances that made my father stay so. He was a loving father, but from him go prison and come back him different. Is not my father come back. I hate him and I love him,” she said.

The youngest of the three said she, too, hates men because she had been raped and her co-workers have been abused by men.

All three admitted to struggling to quit one substance or another. They hope that a change from the life they have known for years will help break addiction’s grip.

After the session, Stacy Ann Smith, director and founder of Pursued International, which focuses on raising awareness about the ills of human trafficking and conducting outreach targeting commercial sex workers, told the Observer that, having confirmed from the women what areas they wanted to be trained in, the programme will begin in earnest in two weeks. She said once successfully completed participants will be placed into jobs by HEART.

“Of late, more and more of them have been asking for jobs because they really want to come off the road and about two of the girls got killed since January,” Smith said.

Her organisation, she said, intends to “stand alongside them all the way to the end”.