Sex workers and frightening truth about Samoa today

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

It does not surprise us one bit. The fact is the “oldest profession” in the world has always existed in Samoa – even if it was carried out illegally. 

What is certainly surprising is the sheer number of women and girls involved and the magnitude by which it exists on these shores. 

We are referring to the disturbing truth revealed in a story titled “Economic reasons force 400 women to sex work” published on the front page of your newspaper yesterday. 

For the uninitiated, the number of female sex workers in Samoa last year was estimated at around 400. The age during which some of them began is 13.

This is according to the Multi-country Mapping and Behavioural study 2016, quoted by the Ministry of Health in their sixth annual report to UNAIDS. 

 “The Pacific Multi-country Mapping and Behavioural Study 2016 found that there are an estimated 400 female sex workers in Samoa,” the report reads. “Most women are doing sex work for economic reasons.” 

“Payment varies considerably from $50 to $200 tala. These women have a wide range of clients, including local and foreign men and 58.3% had children and the majority had no other employment.” 

The study by the way was the work of the U.N.D.P, U.N.I.C.E.F and the University of New South Wales. It was designed to help address HIV and sexually transmitted infections (S.T.Is) among vulnerable populations.  

Samoa was among nine countries the Study covered. But what the report revealed about the attitude towards sex should alarm us all.

 “Only 33% of the participants used a condom on the last occasion of vaginal intercourse with a client; a majority were inconsistent condom users with clients in the last 12 months,” the report continues.

 “Condom use with casual non-paying partners was low; 50% used a condom on the last occasion.” 

The report further says that a minority of the women drank alcohol and their HIV knowledge was moderate. 

“None of the women had accessed a sexual health service in the last 12 months, although 60% had been given condoms in that period,” the report reads. 

“None had been tested for HIV in the previous 12 months. There is therefore a need for extensive condom programming and health education outreach to this group. 

“Interventions should also seek to provide female sex workers with housing, sanitation, and economic services to support their participation in prevention interventions.”

The report reveals a lot more but this is enough for now.

Looking at the number, it’s mind-boggling especially in such a conservative community where talking sex is prohibited and tabooed.

The frightening truth is that the revelation made in the story yesterday will certainly raise eyebrows about what is going on in Samoa. It should be a wake up call for everyone – especially our leaders – about the reality in this country today.

Keep in mind that the government has recently declared Samoa as an official Christian state, which means such a profession would be frowned upon and declared unacceptable.

And yet according to this report, more and more women and girls are resorting to sex work for economic reasons. Simply put, we are a nation full of contradictions. 

But we can’t just blame the people. 

Don’t get us wrong. We don’t condone the existence of sex workers. Where there is a need and a demand, there will always be a supply. The principle works in everything whether it’s sex, alcohol or drugs. It doesn’t matter if it’s legal or not, people will always find a way to get around the system. The same goes for prostitution.

The frightening truth is that this is what happens when the leaders of this country continue to deny the existence of hardship and poverty among our population. When people are desperate, they don’t care. They will do anything to get by. Some resort to petty theft and others – as in this case – will sell their bodies. It’s that simple.

But then that is hardly surprising. All you have to do is take a good look around you to see just how tough things have become. Not a day goes by on the Village Voice where we don’t have parents talk about the struggles of trying to raise their families with so many children and no money. 

We even see these families out there. We see the children on the streets running around without clothes while parents contemplate where they will get the next meal. 

Their downtrodden faces tell a story. It is one of hardship, struggles and poverty due to the lack of income generating opportunities, jobs and much-needed opportunities to advance their lot in life.

Unless we address these core challenges, the number of sex workers is only going to increase on these shores. 

Come to think of it, we might just be touching the tip of the iceberg. It could be a lot worse. We haven’t even started talking about men, boys and fa’afafines. Keep in mind that it’s not just women and girls who are part of the sex industry. 

But then that’s perhaps a story for another day.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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