Friday, October 26, 2007

Tricks of the Trade

Dockside prostitutes in Cape Town and Durban use a variety of tactics to part foreign sailors from their money. The most legitimate way is to provide companionship and sexual services to the seamen, then get paid for it. But sometimes they get a bit sneaky. Sometimes they don't want to bother with the sex, so they find other ways to get the money.

Hustling: The women provide companionship to seamen at the dockside clubs. If the interaction does not lead to a sexual contract, the women content themselves with hustling drinks, cigarettes, food, taxi fare, and tips from the guys. For women past their prime, this is their primary work activity. Guys rarely take them for sex, so they hustle tips through conversation and dancing with the guys.

Robbery: Sometimes the ladies steal from the sailors at the nightclubs. They may reach into their pockets while hugging them. Or, while the guy is using the toilet, they may simply put on his jacket and walk out of the club with his money. But if they're caught, they'll be banned for a time, a difficult penance for most. So they prefer to entice the money out of the guys through hustling.

But in years past, according to many older pros and club owners, they used to concoct elaborate scams with the help of the cab drivers. Here's what would happen:

A cab driver would pick up a sailor in the harbor and take him to meet a girl. The girl would join the sailor in the taxi and suggest going to a house in a nearby suburb. They'd go. Along the way, another cab driver crony would attack them when they were stopped at a "STOP" sign, wearing a balaclava and waving a gun. The driver would hold his hands up in fear. The girl would scream with feigned fright. And the clueless sailor would hand over his wallet in terror. Then the cabbie and girl would drop the sailor back at the ship, expressing their sorrow at his misfortune. Once they'd left, though, they'd meet up with their crony who just robbed the sailor and split the money.

Drugging: In most nightclub contexts, men are usually the ones guilty of slipping something into a female's drink to reduce her capacity for resistance. But at the dockside nightclubs, it's the female prostitutes who do all the drugging. Sometimes they try to drug each other so that they can steal each other's clients. But they prefer use it on a seaman so that they can get a hold of his money without him struggling or remembering.

The other night I interviewed a 29 year-old coloured Muslim prostitute who's been in the game for 11 years. She says that when she first started, the older women taught her how to drug the seamen so that she could steal their money and not have sex with them. They told her:

"Put 3 drops of Visine eye drops into the guy's drink (neat whiskey and hard liquors work best). Let him drink it. Then take him to the hotel. Have him pay you your fee when you enter the room. Then lay him on the bed while you start stripping down. Before you're even done, the sailor should be out cold from the knock-out drops. Rifle through his pockets for the rest of his money, then leave. When you see him the next evening at the club, smile as if you both had the best sex ever! He won't remember a thing!"

Such tricks are inevitable in a context where people want money or sex and where the other party is vulnerable (due to drunkenness, foreign ignorance of the surroundings, or isolation). And while this would raise all kinds of alarms in almost any other setting, it's just another normal piece of the dockside jigsaw puzzle.

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