New Era (Windhoek)

16 September 2010

Namibia: Sex Trade Thriving

Windhoek — The number of girls and women that enter the sex trade has increased so much that the prices they charge clients have decreased terribly, a Roman Catholic Priest, Father Hermann Klein-Hitpass, has revealed.

The priest, who has been helping sex workers for the past 15 years, says more and more girls and women are turning to selling their bodies because they do not have jobs.

According to him, prices that women are paid in return for sex have dropped to N$20 or even N$10.

He said most of the women do not have qualifications to get formal work. He also revealed that the only 'work' the women ever did is prostitution.

"These people don't have work. They must beg for sex to get something to eat," said Klein-Hitpass.

Every week, Father Hermann, as he is affectionately known, has to deal with women who often had difficult pasts. He provides food, money and emotional counselling so that they do not land back in the streets.

The reason, he says, is mainly so that they do not get infected with HIV or pass on the virus to others.

Also, he adds that it is the church's responsibility to care for those with problems, such as sex workers.

When New Era visited his residence this week, a few women who were willing to speak were seen chatting to each other before this reporter interrupted them.

For fear of victimization, none of them provided their names, nor were they willing to have their pictures taken.

To this reporter's surprise, girls as young as 11 years old (according to my estimation) were at the house, not accompanying their parents, but as sex workers seeking help.

"I was having a big problem in Windhoek and I wanted to go back to Okahandja, but I didn't have money. So I decided I would go and hitch-hike," said one lady, who has been receiving help from the priest for the past nine years.

Her nightmare started after getting a lift from a truck driver who "promised" to take her home safely for free.

"When I woke up, I was close to Angola," she said. She explained that she does not have much memory of what happened.

She said the truck driver scolded her, asking if she was stupid for thinking she would get a lift without paying for it.

She said she stayed with the truck driver for a month before he let her go.

"He locked me in a room and he wouldn't let me go out. I only found out later that he went back to Windhoek," she said.

She added: "From then on, I decided I will just sell my body to go back I started selling my body to wear nice shoes."

Because she did not make as much money in Okahandja, she moved to Windhoek where she continued to sell her body.

While going about her business, in 2001, as if help had come from above, Father Hermann came to her rescue "so that I wouldn't go back to the streets".

"I told him one round is N$50," she recalled while laughing. She further revealed that through prostitution, she conceived two children.

"I remember one's father but I don't know where he is. I only know his first name," she said.

"I feel happy and proud of myself," said another lady, recalling where she came from. She said she no longer sells her body.

The reason she started selling her body in exchange for money was to take care of her child whose father "ran away". Her own family, she revealed, ill-treated her and thus she decided to become a prostitute to make a living.

The women and girls New Era spoke to all admitted that selling their bodies has grave consequences. Many wish to lead better lives and support themselves, their children and parents, while others do not have parents. Others admitted that their families do not have a clue about the fact that they were/are sex workers.

"They only know that I work but they don't know what I do," said a 20-year-old woman. She said when she started as a prostitute, business was "good" but with time things changed.

"One day, a man broke sticks and started playing with them in my vagina. I thought I was going to die," she said, adding that she was defenceless, as the man had tied her up so tightly that she could not do anything.

The same lady narrated how a different man picked her up and took her to his house.

"He wanted me to have sex with his dogs or else he would have them bite me," she said. At that point, she was naked but ran for her life after the dogs bit her.

"I lost my virginity on the streets," said another lady, who started selling her body at the age of 14. She said life as a prostitute is hard but "once you are addicted, you won't stop easily". The women also revealed that at times they do go back to the streets to make money, especially over weekends.

Although it was not easy winning the trust of these women, Father Hermann's perseverance and desire to see them stay away from the streets has kept him going.

"Eventually they started bringing their friends also," he said.

He admitted it is not easy working with the women, hence none of them live at his house. He cares for them during the day and sends them away with food and money. He encourages them to keep living when depression kicks in, "at least for the sake of their children".

About 90% of the women that Father Hermann helps are on ARVs.

Although he has received a lot of support from individuals and organisations over the years, Father Hermann is calling on them to continue to assist so that he continues with his work of caring for the women and their children.

Meanwhile, psycho-logist/counsellor, Jessica Langfellner, says most people walk past sex workers everyday without knowing what they are. Some of the sex workers are men.

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