Thursday, November 1, 2007

Price Gouging Prostitutes

At the dockside nightclubs in Cape Town and Durban, prostitutes compete with each other for foreign seafaring clients. The ladies may be colleagues, but they're also rivals. Seeking to secure their own livelihoods, they deploy sneaky strategies to outwit their competitors. One particularly dangerous ploy is to undercut the competition by reducing the price for sex.

In Cape Town, many sailors are repeat-visitors. As fishing trawlermen, they come back to Cape Town every few months. Many establish relationships with the women. If a seaman returns to port, he expects his woman to be available for him. And she expects him to seek her out too. They enjoy a temporary bond that the other girls are supposed to respect.

But if a woman doesn't have a boyfriend arriving soon, she may find it difficult to make money. The other sailors may already be attached to other women. So what's she to do? She can't just steal him away. She'll earn a sound beating from the angry rival and her associates. Everyone agrees that overt theft of a client is a no-no.

The most devious way to poach another lady's client is to offer him a cheaper rate for sex. If he normally pays R600 ($90) for an engagement, she may charge him half that. If he's game, she'll make arrangements to meet outside the club without anyone finding out. Then, she hopes, he'll brush off his other woman for her.

Recently, a woman poached another lady's regular Chilean client by charging him only R200 ($30). They secretly met and had their fun. When he sailed away a few days later, no one knew that they had been together. But when he came back, he met up with his other regular woman at the club and offered to pay her just R200 for a session. She looked at him like he was crazy.

She tells him, "We always go for R600. What makes you think you can have me for so cheap now?!" Then he told her he only paid R200 for the other lady. So, he doesn't want to be ripped off.

The pro was livid. She grabbed his R200, stuffed it in her bra, and marched up to the poacher and hit her in the face until her nose started bleeding. Then she waved a dismissive hand toward the seaman, saying, "You can have her! I don't want a cock that's been dipped in that 200 rand pussy!"

Price gouging is common in any business. It grants consumers products that they desire for a cheaper price. And it rewards producers with new clientele, even if the initial profit margin is thin. But at the dockside clubs, price gougers can face the violent wrath of rivals who see them undercutting their ability to make business.

In fact, most women recognize that price gouging is a self-defeating strategy. Over time, guys may demand the cut-rate deals all the time. Ultimately, it drives down the value of the women's services, making it harder to make a living through sex work.

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