One night in the Red Light district of Durban, South Africa
Durban, South Africa is located on the South East coast of South Africa.
I received an email from a fellow abolitionist and friend in South Africa. She recently joined a group called theRed Light, to learn more about sex trafficking on the streets of Durban, South Africa. The letter below is from an email I received last night about her first Night Light visit. Her experience was so compelling, and true of sex trafficking around the world, that I asked her if I could republish her story to share with others. Kindly, Julie has agreed to let me republish her experience. Here is her story.
As I mentioned in my last email, I have joinedRed Lightfor what is called Night Lights… for those that were not able to open the attachment, Night Lights is a project facilitated by Red Light - an anti-Human Trafficking organization, whereby we go out onto the streets of Durban on every second Wednesday night and speak to the pimps, prostitutes and homeless people we encounter, and the basic aim is build up a relationship with them in order to gain their trust, should they ever wish to share any information with us, or if they themselves want to get off the streets.
I thought I would tell you about last night while it's all still fresh in my mind, and my emotions/feelings are still 'raw'.
I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't scared going out there, because our destination is the really dark and seedy side of town. For the locals who know the area, we went from Smith Street, down to Point Road, passed the Wheel, and then back up via the Esplanade.
A few minutes after we (a group of about 12 of us) set off, we encountered a group of Nigerian men sitting on the side of the road enjoying their dinner. Some of the people within our group are fairly well acquainted with these men, known pimps in the area. And we stopped to chat to them. After introductions were made for those of us who were new, I stepped into the background to watch the dynamics of this encounter. (LOL yeah, I am an observer! I don't go rushing in =P). What amazed me what how happy these guys were to sit and chat to us and tell us how things were going.
One gent was clearly the alpha male in the group and was quite chatty. but all the while, you can see them scanning the street with their eyes. They know where each of their girls are and what they are up to, and with a mere nod of the head in their direction, a girl who might be distracted or chatting to someone that is not going to help her earn her keep, is put back in line. And should a john stop to talk to the girls but not actually make use of her services, one of the gents would calmly excuse himself from our company and slowly start walking towards the girl and the john. This seems to be enough to make the girls move on very quickly. The entire time we were chatting to these men, they were nothing but charming and polite.
At one point one of our team-members, an amazing man we call Ant, asked Mr. Alpha-Male if he knew about God. And I can tell you now... that man knew more about God and the Bible than many Christians I know. Standing there listening to him talk about God's Love and how Jesus came to die for each and everyone, it was almost possible to forget what his chosen profession is… and to forget that with a mere look in her direction, he can make a girl standing across the road from us look like a cat on a hot tin roof. After we moved on, Ant, who actually lives in one of the nearby shelters and spends a lot of time on the street with these people, explained that many of the pimps in this area are not the bosses. They are merely a worker. And while he was explaining this to us, we passed a group of gents that he pointed out as the real bosses. And it was so obvious to see the difference, to see how the food chain worked in this area…
You have the girls, which look like a little mouse caught in the corner by a predator, either shaking in fear, or so far beyond fear that they look numb and frozen.
Then you have the pimps, which remind me of the jackals you see in these discovery channel documentaries. They seem to be cocky and arrogant, and chirping and bouncing about looking like the big shots. Making a lot of noise, but doing nothing themselves.
Then you have the bosses… these guys remind me of an alpha lion walking along the Serengeti. Majestic and powerful with confidence and arrogance that makes it obvious to see why they are king of the jungle… yet every movement is precise and calculated.
Apparently life on the streets is easier for the girls if they have a pimp, because they supposedly look out for 'your best interests', and this includes ensuring they get their next fix when they are too wasted to get it themselves. What amazed me about the whole experience was the blatant openness of it all. We encountered John’s (men who enlist these girls' services) who were quite happy to stand and chat to us, tell us who they are, where they are from and where they work etc. Others would high-tail it out of there when they saw us. It wasn't exactly as though we blended in with the surroundings; after all, we were the only white faces in a sea of black. That area of town is now referred to as 'Little Nigeria,' with brothels and chop shops all over the place.
I have been through that part of town plenty of times, but never like this, never actually looking at what is going on. Normally we are in our cars and speeding through with our doors locked in the hopes that the traffick lights don't stop us. I was a bit nervous as to how dangerous it would be walking out there, but was pleasantly surprised that most people were just curious about us. "What are a bunch of white people doing here?" was the question we were asked the most.
We encountered one young girl - Precious, who said she was 16yrs old, but if she was 13 or 14 that was a lot. She was completely high and drunk. But when she heard that I could speak basic Zulu, we were suddenly 'best friends' and she was telling me in rather flowery language what her daily routine entailed. She did not sleep in any of the nearby shelters because "they only want my bleep money…but bleep money is for bleep drink". So I asked her where she slept, and she promptly showed me… she dropped down on the curb at my feet and leant up against the wall. "Bleep everywhere is my bed". One of the ladies within our group asked her if she was not scared sleeping like that on the street and young Precious, said “Its good Misus (M'am). The men will bleep me and give me bleep money."
At this point Precious decided that she had had enough of our company and swaggered off to go talk to the wall across the road from us. It broke my heart to see someone so young so gone to the world and not being able to do anything about it. I wanted to wrap my arms around and her take her off the streets. But at the end of the day, we can't do anything unless they make an actual choice. We can take them to the shelters / safe houses, but unless they make the choice that this is what they want, our attempts are in vain as no sooner have we turned our backs than they have run off and are on the streets again.
It was definitely an interesting experience which I definitely will be repeating. I also find it fascinating to talk to the various people within the group (always different people. I only know 4 of them) and find out what their story is, why this is something they want to do, etc…