Most hip hop lovers will be familiar with the chorus of City High’s 2001 classic, ‘What Would you Do?’. Featuring a sample from Dr Dre’s ‘The Next Episode’, it was probably one of the first moments in many of our lives when we were introduced to prostitution through music.
The use of rhetoric within the Wyclef production, along with the visuals from the music video, really brought focus to the line, ‘Cause he’s hungry and the only way to feed him is to sleep with a man for a little bit of money…’ This statement, seeking to explain the many and varied reasons for prostitution, still resonate today in the ongoing debate of prostitution and its legalities.
In most parts of the world the practice of sexual relations in exchange for a payment in all its various forms is illegal, yet the actual act of prostitution is legal in the U.K. However there are several activities closely linked to prostitution, such as soliciting and the running of brothels, that are still prohibited. A sensitive subject, and one that affects almost all cultures, it raises the question of why we avoid talking about the matter.
In July 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May made the announcement that Britain was to receive a £33 million boost to tackle modern-day slavery, a wider category some might say prostitution falls under. More specifically, the prime minister stated the funds would be directed at people along well-known trafficking trade routes in countries such as Nigeria. Thousands of women are led into danger everyday as they travel from the West African country into Italy with the assurance of a prosperous future. These vulnerable targets are eventually awakened to reality, only to find themselves becoming victims of a deep and dark sex trade industry which can be nearly impossible to escape from.
Although this problem has brought to the attention of the media this year, the trafficking of sex workers between Italy and Nigeria is an ongoing difficulty which actually goes back almost 30 years. During the 1980’s many impoverished Nigerian women found themselves facing a stark choice between prostitution or obtaining a working visa to travel to Italy for informal and physically demanding work harvesting fruit and vegetables. Not only was prostitution deemed more lucrative, it was also a faster and, for some, easier way of making money during a time when there were very few options for women wanting to rise up from poverty. The lack of opportunities saw many women consciously choosing less moral ways of generating an income to fund a normal lifestyle, although nowadays fewer and fewer Nigerian women are aware of what they are signing up for.
The issue extends to other countries in West Africa, with Ghana also facing problems tackling this illegal activity. As it stands prostitution is a criminal act in Ghana, however this does not diminish the number of young girls I have witnessed first hand gathering on the streets of Accra in the late hours of the evening looking for sex work. After driving past the same streets while away in Ghana during the summer, I wanted to understand why girls close to myself in age were using their bodies in exchange for a small payment of the local currency. Following a few attempts to gain a further understanding into the reasons behind prostitution in Ghana from the sex workers themselves, I slowly began to understand that anybody who had questions surrounding their activity could be seen as a threat or danger. My next point of focus was the local people, and through them I slowly began to draw some conclusions that differed from thoughts that I had previously read.