Unspeakable tales of abuse and horror haunt prostituted women

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 October) — Unspeakable tales of abuse and horror haunt women in prostitution, their conditions made worse by society that puts the blame on the victims and tolerate the perpetrators, a group working with prostituted women, said.

Jeanette Ampog, executive director of the women’s group Talikala, recounted the 2008 story of John-John, a Dabawenya whose man ”customer” tried to strangle her inside the room of a first class resort hotel in Cebu.

Just to save her life, John-John barged out of the hotel room, naked and ran down the hotel lobby to ask for help. The man later accused her of stealing money and told the police about it.

”But how could she steal anything?” Ampog asked. ”She was totally naked when she came out of the room.”

John-John, she said, was only forced into that kind of ”work” because she needed the money for her son.

In Davao City, a prostituted woman was discovered killed inside the room in Treasure Inn in 2007.  But stories of abuses like these hardly cause public uproar because of the tacit belief among most people that the victims were to blame.

”Prostitution is a ‘paid rape’ that opens women to all abuses by men,” Ampog said.  ”What’s worse, men usually think that because they’re paying the women for sex, they already think they own the women’s body as well.”

Most prostituted women who want to use condoms to protect themselves, for instance, usually end up being raped or abused, she said.  ”Their insistence on condom is at the heart of most tales of abuses by men,” said Ampog.

She  pointed out that while women get the blame for the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, there’s hardly a word spoken against men who are not even subjected to medical check-ups.  ”Is that because they have the money and they’re the one paying for the women’s ‘services?”’ she asked.

In Davao City alone, Talikala estimates some 6,000 women forced into prostitution. Of this number, only 2,811 were issued ”occupational permit’ by the government in 2009; which means, a greater number of them work as ”freelance” in establishments without permits from the government.

Although prostitution is illegal, the  local business bureau issues ”occupational permits’ to guest relations officers, taxi dancers and massage attendants each year.  Ampog pointed out that these so-called jobs are ”legal” names for women and children engaged in prostitution.

She said the government must have known the ”hidden and unspoken” nature of the job because twice a month, the government requires the holders of this permit to submit themselves to smear tests to see to it they’re not infected with sexually- transmitted diseases.

Ampog said her group used to ask the government to look closely into this kind of jobs, if they really wanted to put a stop to prostitution.  But she said nothing was done about it.

”They used to tell us that much as they wanted to, they could not provide jobs to all people in the city,” she said she was told by top city officials.

The Tax Code of the Philippines also requires GROs, taxi dancers and massage attendants to pay taxes of P75 to P100 a year. ”The fact that they’re being taxed means that the government is tolerating the practice,” Ampog said.  ”They know the hazards of the job that’s why they require the women to submit to the smear test and health checkups twice a month to keep their pink cards.  When women get sick of sexually-transmitted disease, the government sometimes provides for the medications.”

Belen Antoque, secretary-general of the women’s group Lawig Bubai, said that as  poverty worsens in the country, more women will be forced into a life of prostitution.  ”We call on the government to prioritize basic services, give land to the tillers, ensure job security to our workers and give our women dignity and justice,” Antoque said. ”The state of our women and children only reflects the real sate of the nation,” she added.

The 2006 report of the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) showed a 16 per cent rise in the number of poor households in the country compared to 2003 when a similar study was  conducted. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)