Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Problem with Local "Johns"

Cape Town: Last night a local drunk guy stumbles into a dockside nightclub. Not many sailors around and the ladies are restless for business. The owner lets the drunk man in, hoping that he might spend some money on the girls.

Half-an-hour later—as I'm talking to the owner downstairs—the drunk comes skidding down the stairs head-first. He slams into the opposite wall of the stairwell. The bouncer stomps down the steps behind him. He takes a look at the crumpled heap and grabs him by the collar to haul him outside. He roughly deposits the drunk on the sidewalk, giving him a final slap across the face for good measure.

One of the prostitutes comes down the stairs and says that the guy had been cursing the girls and verbally abusing the staff. The bouncer asked him to leave, but he persisted. Then the bouncer clapped across the face and sent him tumbling down the stairs. To all of this, the owner doesn't even blink.

Violence in this context isn't uncommon, but this particular scene reveals some unique aspects of dockside prostitution.

At "seamen's clubs"—where local ladies solicit sailors for business—drunk men are everywhere. And for the most part, they're harmless. But if a local guy comes around, there can be problems.

Local guys don't feel welcome at dockside clubs. They're surrounded by foreign sailors and the local women aren't interested in them. Though they're in "their own" country, they get the distinct feeling that they don't belong. This can piss some guys off, especially if they're drunk. So they mouth off at everyone—going on about "this is South Africa!" and "you girls are just whores!"—but then the bouncers sort them out.

One of the reasons why local women solicit at dockside nightclubs is so they don't have to work with local men. The women can protect their privacy and anonymity by going with seafarers who have no impact beyond the dockside. Locals, though, can hassle them within and beyond the clubs. And, according to the women, they're more likely than sailors to throw it in their face that they're prostitutes. So the ladies tend to ignore locals (unless they demonstrate that they're really generous and really cool).

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