Dockside Solicitation Strategies
One of the key aspects of my upcoming book, Sugar Girls & Seamen, concerns solicitation strategies employed by dockside prostitutes. This blog entry offers a brief look at what's involved.
Dockside prostitution is a specialized niche in the sex trade. This is because the clientele—transient foreign seamen—face different constraints than the clients of other sectors (streets, brothels, truck-stops, and agencies). Prostitutes must cater to these salty waifs in unique ways, taking into account their transience, foreignness (legally & culturally), and social needs (for male-bonding & female companionship). This blog entry highlights some of the solicitation strategies used by Cape Town & Durban sugar girls.
First, imagine the scene: a South African dockside nightclub. On any given night you'll find dozens of foreign sailors sitting around enjoying themselves with beers and whiskeys. They sit in booths, at tables, or at the bar. Every club has a dance floor, a pool-table room, and a couple of them have karaoke rooms. They meander between them throughout the evening.
From 8pm, prostitutes start to stream in. In Cape Town, they tend to be 'mixed-race' coloureds and in Durban they're mostly provincial Zulus. When they arrive, they greet their friends, ignore their rivals, and order up their first drink from their favorite spot. They chill for a few minutes, usually in pairs or small groups, and survey the scene.
As they talk, they establish what kind of action is available for the night: Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Croatians, Germans, Senegalese, Samoans, etc. Then they chat about what ships are supposed to be in the harbor and whether this will impact their evening's activities. Perhaps a returning client is on one of the ships. That would definitely raise hopes.
After awhile, some of the girls head to the dance floor to show off their curves and availability. They make sure they're visible to any promising clients. Other women head straight for a table to join a group of men, asking for a light to initiate the connection. Then they're able check them out up-close and personal. Others sit alone at the bar, looking mysterious, above the fray. If a sailor likes a challenge, he'll be enticed by the seeming disinterest such aloof women display.
This is only the first move, part of a marketing campaign to get the attention of the seamen. Once contact is established, a woman will usually settle in at a booth with a sailor and his mates. They'll greet and incorporate her into the group, offering her drinks and cigarettes. She'll oblige.
For the next 3 or 4 hours, the woman will work hard to keep her man's attention. AND she will continue checking out other options while gauging whether this guy is worth the time. Throughout the evening, she'll make provisional claims on a number of men—with one guy typically being the primary—while the men also make make claims on multiple women. A promiscuous flirtation saturates the flitty relationships at the clubs.
Conversation, dancing, drinking, smoking, and touching fill the hours. But throughout, a woman guides the sailor toward a negotiation for a sexual contract after the club. For even if the seaman treats her to drinks and cigarettes, maybe even proffering 'taxi fare' or some cash for the good times, the real money is made through a sexual rendezvous. She might score some 'taxi fare' (R30/$5) or a hundred rands ($16) for the companionship but if they can the chance to provide sexual services, they can demand R200-300 ($30-50) for poorer crewmen and R500-1000 ($80-160) for wealthier officers.
Most sailors resist the offer, stumbling back to the bosom of their ships instead. Many go to the clubs for male-bonding with their mates or for some casual comfort and companionship from a lady. Drinking is crucial too. And if they're not very well-paid crewmen, then they may be even more reluctant. But most sailors do, at some point, take advantage of the sexual services provided by the port sugar girls.
Thus, even though many women go to the clubs 6-7 nights per week, they may average about 2 or 3 post-club hook-ups. The rate is higher for Durban because the women deal with overnight container-ship sailors while Cape Town women deal mainly with long-stay fishing trawler seamen. In other words, Durban provides more sailors for shorter durations, allowing for more potential clients. In Cape Town, the fewer sailors tend to stay longer. But, even though Durban women get more clients, they also charge less, making monthly earnings between the C.T. and Durban women about the same.
In conclusion, solicitation takes hours, requiring a range of social skills. Conversational abilities are important, foreign language skills can be a big plus, willingness to touch and caress on the spot is crucial, attractiveness is a bonus (but not necessary), and savvy clientele choices are de rigeur.
Unlike other sex sectors, it's not enough to just show up and be 'available.' The women have to actively solicit in a competitive atmosphere. The difference between success and failure is hundreds of rands on any given night. Hence, in-club skills makes up the most important aspect of sugar girls' work (more than actual sexual skills). Though it is not formally paid for, solicitation not only makes the sailors feel great at the clubs, but it steers their attention toward the girls for post-club extravaganzas.
These interpersonal club activities have a big impact on the women's social lives, cultural investments, and sense of identity as prostitutes. Obviously their work incorporates so much more than just sex. Their solicitation techniques are socially complex and culturally sophisticated.
The next blog entry will compare solicitation at the dockside to that of other prostitution sectors.