Thursday, 19 July 2012

Features: ‘Give me another drink … and get yourself a tequila …’

      The Gold Club at Lamana hotel, one of the nightspots in Port Moresby. 


I WAS enjoying San Miguel beer at my usual corner in my favorite club one late Friday night when a bulky Papua New Guinean approached me and asked if I was alone.

I said "yes" and then he followed it up, asking if I was "gay" and I said "nah …".

Jabbing me with his selling line, he lowered his head close to mine and whispered:
"Want somebody to give you company? You can take her home …"

Curious, I asked where that “somebody” was that moment and he thrust his lips outwards, towards a group of Papua New Guinean girls on the dance floor who were gyrating to hard-rock music blaring from the two giant speakers on both sides of the band stage. 

Then the man, or to be exact, the pimp, had described who she was among the group and said, "that's her …"

Instantly, I presumed the man was lying. The girl she referred to was quite familiar to me, being one of the drink servers at the club and was on her night off enjoying with her girlfriends. In fact, she's my favorite among the waitresses working at the club.

But then I could be wrong in branding him a liar and his revelation that this girl, just 18, is moonlighting as a sex worker shocked me a bit. 

To please the broker, I told him "I'll think about it". Because until now, I have never believed that she was what the stranger said she was.

THIS KIND of encounter between a sex broker and potential client has apparently become common in Port Moresby, but more so in almost all places across Papua New Guinea.

For instance, the case of Kyla (not her real name) represents what actually happens in many parts of the country. 

In an interview with Help Resources, an non-government organisation based in Port Moresby doing a study on the commercialisation of sex in PNG, she narrated:

"I am orphaned and live with an aunt who has six children. My aunt's husband is a labourer earning about 80 kina (US$26) a fortnight. 

"I don't know how I got involved in selling sex. My friends (schoolgirls) were already selling sex. I started at 12. My boyfriend forced me, and then paid me. At that time, I needed the money to buy clothes and food for myself. That was the reason why I come out at night and stay in dark corners.

"There were about two local boys about 16 and a man about 40 whom I had sex with for money.

"With the boys, I got paid K10 (US$3.22) each time. With the man, I got paid about 20-50 kina. I need the money badly to buy food, soap, clothes, medicines and to help myself survive.

"I knew the danger of contracting HIV and the shame in my community, but all I care about is my basic needs today. I want to be like my other girlfriends. Nobody cares about my future. 

"I give money to my auntie and my other girlfriends and to my cousin who is my best friend. She also shares money with me she earned from doing it. She gets hers and goes to hotels. I often help other people as I have plenty of money."

Due to poverty, family breakdown and violence, weakening moral and spiritual values, lack of concern and negligence of government agencies that are supposed to protect children and young women, peer pressure, inadequate social services and poor role models, prostitution, particularly that of a child, is emerging as the primary form of commercial sexual exploitation in the country.

But the girl at the club (I will call her "Daisy") the pimp had tried to tempt me with doesn't come from a poor family or a broken one. Daisy told me her mom is a government worker and her dad a city cop. 

A school drop-out after Grade 12, she works as waitress six nights a week at this night club to earn money to buy things that would help boost her self-esteem – mobile phone, new jeans, nice dresses, cosmetics and many more that her parents could still ill-afford.

The club is frequented by white men, Asians – including Filipinos – and Papua New Guineans, especially on Friday nights when there's a fundraising dance catering for locals. 

But one thing for sure, I had no personal knowledge of what Daisy does after work, which usually ends at 2am, an eight-hour job that earns her at least K8 (US$2.50) a night. But of course, once in a while she also earns tips – sometime generous ones – from some customers, including me.

But what could have caused her to ply the sex trade on occasion, assuming the pimp was telling the truth, is something that could be blamed on peer pressure and a lot more complicated factors. 

As PNG gets exposed to a lot of new things that used to be foreign to the locals 20 years ago like cable TV, video players-recorders, mobile phones, laptops, tablets, iPad, iPhone, RTW, cosmetics and various women accessories, women magazines, online and porn VCDs, young and women in their prime alike, especially the unemployed or the low-income government and private firm employees, have become thirsty for at least one or two of such items, particularly the girlie stuff they would be proud to show off to their peers. 

However, due to the meager wage their employers pay them (usually one kina per hour (US$0.33), the chance of acquiring these costly, imported luxuries is just like something asking for the moon. However, many have found a way to go around their material lack by selling sex.

ACCORDING TO HELP Resources, there seemed to be unregulated expatriate-run business premises involved in the blatant practice of institutionalised sexual exploitation of children and young women as could be found in most hotels, night clubs and guesthouses of Port Moresby's growing entertainment sector and in Lae city in the northern shore of PNG.

The situational analysis of commercial sex exploitation in the country was commissioned by the PNG Children's Foundation, Inc with assistance from PACE (People Against Child Exploitation) and Unicef.

The study has shown that more and more teen-age girls and young women are operating out of the mushrooming brothels in the National Capital District, ranging from guesthouses in residential areas, foreign-owned establishments openly advertising day-rooms only, hotels, clubs, and restaurants and large hotels that advertise live-in jobs for young women.

In live-in situations, the girls do not have pimps although other male and female employees actively and knowingly facilitate sex deals as routine part of their job. 

In larger hotels, security guards, receptionists and waiters are often involved, sometimes offering to potential clients their female co-workers and sometimes the regular sex workers who congregate in nightclub bars.

The study has noted that the club owners profit immensely from alcohol sales, and the bar girls or Guest Relation Officers (GRO) are often paid per bottle top, or per drink, rather than receiving regular wages. 

Some girls get paid just for the service of drinking with men (up to 50 kina [US$16]) plus generous tips if they had been "very accommodating".

There's also some kind of sex slavery in the National Capital District where trafficked sex workers from villages are held against their will and are made to sell sex only to foreigners.

Key informants had revealed to HELP Resource that the sex slaves are financially exploited because they do not have direct control or access to money earned.

Just like other business that involves people-to-people interaction, the city sex workers have brokers to find for them some deals. 

In fact, less than half of the girls interviewed by Help Resources have exclusive or regular pimps. However, in three cases where the pimps had been mentioned, usually men of 25 to 35 years of age were reported as commonly controlling groups of five to six girls.

They move around the city bars, disco houses and streets together in their teams or "squads" and doing so gives them confidence and sense of safety and security. (While having beer at a famous, smokey disco house in Gordon, I was approach by a man who told me “my sister would like to chat with you … you can buy her a drink … if you want, you can take her home … she’s very good …”. I couldn’t believe what I heard but then I knew he was just pimping for her).

In other cases, girls reported men who accompanied them as "street husbands" who get paid for their escort services but also took a share of their takes.

A WEEK after my encounter with the nocturnal broker, I was back in my usual corner at the club listening to the music of the Filipino band when Daisy sidled to me and asked for my drink order. 

Tonight, she was stunning in her black, curve-hugging dress of which the hemline hung temptingly up above her knees, with a third of her ample breasts shyly peeking out and accentuating a deep cleavage. 

This time, she did not restrain her long, wavy Papuan hair and instead, let it loose to cover the round of her bare shoulders and back. 

Had I not known this girl, I would be thinking of her as somebody I would feel very uneasy being with.

She said she was knocking off before midnight to join her girlfriends at a popular disco house nearby.

"Can you give me a lift …?" she said. "We two can have some fun later tonight … you look so bored ..."

"Give me another drink …" I told her, "and get yourself a tequila …"

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