Unwillingly served

(NOTE: Name of the sex worker interviewed is not her real name)

Linda, a mother of five, cannot control her tears as we interviewed her about her work.

Way before the pandemic, we happened to have an interview with a sex worker.

The Walking Street, where we picked her up was somber, and yet, intense as neon lights emanating from different bars lit up the entire place. Everyone knew it was a place of lust as it is brimful and laden with men during hours of the dusk; there are men who were searching for women to get in bed with. As we walked further inside the chromatic place, we have been served a view of kiosks or buildings which exhibited females like a banquet, solely for the lascivious eyes of men. Customers, both foreigners and locals, feasted upon the spectacles and presence of ladies, which did not stand right for me initially. However, I knew these female workers did not want to be objectified— no one does. There and then, my eagerness to get to know a sex worker grew, I wanted to ask her the things that I wanted to know.

Linda seemed certainly warm and affable; contrasting to how tough she looked in her workplace. Despite that, when we started to ask questions about her safety (HIV awareness, safe sex practice, and testing-wise), she feels slightly aloof. This is as if she was detached to what we were doing— answering us objectively without any hint of personality. However, when we took small breaks, she would complain to us that her mouth sores (singaw in Filipino) hurt like we were her close friends; some other times, she would share a small story not related to her work. At this point, we started to think whether she really liked doing her work. This led us to ask the next question, “Why do you do your job?” to which she replied, “dahil po sa kahirapan” (because of poverty).

Indeed, she has five kids enrolled, a husband behind bars in Manila, and parents to take care of. When she was narrating how she ended up doing the job, she started to break down and told us that she went through a lot in her past; we felt the distress. She said she was aware of the stigma that the Filipino society brings to sex workers, but it was the only choice she has in order to survive.

It was the only choice to survive, this made me ponder… what had happened to Linda now when sex works are unavailable because of the pandemic?

These people sell sex as a commodity because there is an existing demand; and while life outside this line of activity is severely taxing and impossible, of course, one would choose the only way to survive. Now that there is a pandemic, I could only imagine whether they chose to continue with the job and risk themselves just to bring food to their table. However, the thing that leaves me perplexed up until now is the fact that I have not heard about a single action to help the population of sex workers.

In purview of the law, those involved in sex work are victims and offenders at the same time— however, on a moral basis and in the eyes of a human being, there is a reason why they are staying even though they wanted out. People looked at the deed, but no one looked at the faulty system which caused them to engage in such activity.

While females like Linda are unwillingly served, the world should have a bigger understanding that people would sell anything as a commodity in order to survive. Instead of putting ignominy on the victims, we should beg to change the system in such a way that sex work would not have to be considered an option anymore— not because the law forbids it, but because there is simply no need for it anymore.