How to stop commercial sex

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Mika Kelekolio*

Last week, an article headlined in this newspaper, “Stop sex work” caught my attention. 

My immediate thoughts were of our P.S.C being innovative in creating a new career path so more people can be employed in the public service. 

Not until I read further down that I realised it was about “commercial sex”; about young girls/women offering sex for money. It was about a concern raised by Member of Parliament Olo Fiti Va’ai who felt the practise went against our Christian principles and called on the Government to put a stop to it.

Now, “commercial sex”? I read a lot but I’ve never come across this term before being used to describe a natural human activity. I’ve heard of a commercial bank, a commercial property and a commercial cleaner but never commercial sex. 

Sounded like hard work to me.

The article itself isn’t clear on whether Olo’s objection is about sex being paid for or because the price had gone up that our men couldn’t afford it anymore. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear. Those of us residing abroad who haven’t been back home in the last 10 years will be shocked to find that they now have to pay for something they used to get for free. They will be wondering about what has happened to our “paradise of free love under the tree” that Dr. Margaret Mead fondly told the world about in her “Coming of Age” thesis and on which she launched her academic career.

Maybe we’ll just have to accept that Samoa is now a competitive market economy where everything cost money, including going to church on Sundays and where prices are driven by demand. There’s no such thing as free lunch, sex or whatever anymore.

In a sense, Olo is right though. Samoa is a Christian country and we’ve always been that way since the missionaries arrived. So having Christianity boldly enshrined in our Constitution is our way of telling the world that we have very strong Christian morals; that our churches are filled with children on Sundays, many of whom are raised by their grandparents because they don’t know who or where their fathers are, is a testament to our strong adherence to those morals.

We’re blessed we are not like those other societies where it’s normal for married men to have a bit on the side and if that leads to a pregnancy, well, that’s the woman’s problem. She can just give the child away to her parents to raise. When she grows up and becomes too difficult to care for, she can move in with other relatives. Should she get physically, emotionally or sexually abused by uncle, just accept it and stay quiet as that is a normal part of family life.

But us Samoans, no. We’re not like them. We are Christians, remember? We care.

If at times some of our males stray away from those Christian principles because their sex-worker neighbour enticed them to bed for money, we shouldn’t be overly upset by it or think that such behaviour is un-Christian. Just remember that he Bible says, “Love thy neighbour”.

I gather from the context of the article that Olo is against “commercial sex” because our women are not only offering it for money but most likely to foreigners. To me, it’s perfectly logical for a sex worker to offer her service to foreigners because they have money. It’s better than offering it to locals who will either refuse to pay or offer a closed-fist as payment.

But, the question that worries me is, how is sex-for-money different from what we see all the time in bars and nightclubs where a male plies a young woman or someone else’s wife with drinks then makes off with her afterwards? 

Or the taxi driver who gives a young female a ride in return for sex? 

Olo is right however when he said we are a bunch hypocrites.

And now, we have our Ministry of Health running around cleaning up after the “commercial sex workers” by offering them disease prevention and counselling services free of charge. I hope it’s not going to all end up in bloody messy. 

When I did psychotherapy for my post-graduate studies, one of the things we were taught is to invite the client to talk about their issue(s) while you empathise with their situation. It’ll be interesting to see how many sex workers are willing to talk about what they do when they know that nothing in Samoa is confidential? 

Even more interesting are the people who will provide this service. Counselling for sex workers in NZ is provided through the Prostitutes Collective by mainly ex-sex workers. It will be a fun job because it’s far more interesting listening to a sex worker than a diabetic telling her story.

But how do we know who is a sex worker? Olo says we need to find them and give them employment. He also suggested that the Police should be involved. Lord help us! We already have our traffic cops demanding more from drivers than just their licence when they get stopped. Imagine what sex cops will demand from sex workers when they find them?

And how will they find them? Unless of course they have “Sex Worker” tattooed on their foreheads like what patched members of the Mongrel Mob do.

Prime Minister Tuila’epa is reported to have scoffed at Olo’s suggestion that the Government was not doing anything to stop “commercial sex” activities by saying that no country, including wealthy western nations has been able to control this type of behaviour. 

I think I have a solution for the PM. 

We can bring this thing under control by simply merging our Christian values with those of Islam and call Samoa a Christlam State. We are already half Christian and half Islam if we look at the principles we live our lives by. For example, we believe in “an eye-for-an-eye” and in “do unto others what they do unto you”. Rarely would we turn the other cheek when we get assaulted or insulted by someone. That’s why we needed the new and bigger prison at Tanumalala.

The PM can use the same power he used to change the side of the road on which we drive and alter the International Dateline to make us the first country in the world to welcome the new day instead of being the last.

He can introduce a law similar to that of Islamic countries where the thief’s hand get chopped of when he’s caught stealing leaving only a stump.

Imagine the fear men will have knowing that their stump will get chopped off if they are caught buying sex? No respected businessman, reverent or MP will wants to walk around Apia with people laughing and pointing at him as missing his stump.

Do that and the “commercial sex-worker” problem will disappear over-night. 

But it leaves us with another issue. Why is it that under our current laws the woman who provides a sex service gets charged with soliciting while the male who paid for it doesn’t? 

Is this another example of principles underpinning our laws being very similar to Sharia (Islamic) laws where a woman who gets caught providing a sex service or committing adultery is stoned to death while the male who received the service only gets 100 lashes?

Laws covering sex workers ought to be looked at with a view to bringing about change akin to that now embedded in our electoral laws where both the candidate and voter in general elections get charged with the same offence where treating and bribery is evident. 

Only when we have addressed these issues this way can we talk about gender equality in Samoa.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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