The Sunday Mail
CIVILISATION’S oldest profession has taken a new twist.
Once a shameful act in Zimbabwe, done under the cover of darkness, the trade has gone a notch higher as new technology is shaking up the ancient business.
Ladies of the night are moving with the times, from the streets to the internet. With more businesses using social media to drive their interests, commercial sex workers have not been left behind — they too have moved online to ply their trade.
Innovative ladies of the night and escort agencies are openly using websites, WhatsApp, Facebook and other social networks as money-spinning applications.
While some are still glued to street corners waiting for patrons, the tech savvy among them have ditched their old fashioned modus operandi. Numbers of women still hanging out in the popular zones known as “red light districts” around the city are decreasing. They believe social media is more “classy, reliable, profitable and safe”.
On these internet based platforms, they make use of raunchy pictures and lascivious language to advertise themselves to the public.
There are terms and conditions which one has to comply with.
Contact details, amount to be paid and period for services are also displayed. A brief description on the nature of “services” offered is also displayed on their statuses.
To get to understand these activities better, The Sunday Mail Society’s undercover investigation revealed that these virtual personalities are no scams. They are real people eking a living through enticing social media users on instant messaging applications.
Purporting to be a client and pretending to be fully interested, this writer contacted one of the women whose advert is on Facebook and a conversation ensued.
“Whatever will go on between us is strictly professional and no strings attached,” she texted back after I had asked about a fee for a service.
In the conversation, issues like price, location and the activities that would take place were addressed. But before she could give out a meeting place and time, she insisted that $5 be sent to her mobile phone — which was done.
“It’s a deposit fee, a commitment charge and a sign that you are serious,” she insisted.
The chit-chat went on after I had paid the “commitment fee” through Ecocash.
On Facebook, she is Tracy Muchenjenjee, a “University of Zimbabwe graduate”, but her Ecocash line is registered as Syla Rambane.
She confirmed receipt of the money I had sent. Location and time were immediately sorted.
Upon arrival at corner Fife Avenue and Seventh Street, our meeting place, I met a totally different person from the one advertised on Facebook. The well-built Tracy I had seen on the Facebook profile was miles apart from the real life slim, fair in complexion Syla Rambane.
“The name on Facebook is for business but my real name is the one you saw on my Ecocash,” she said seductively.
And how come you are not the person on your Facebook profile?
“You are asking too many questions, if you are not okay with me you will never find the one you saw on Facebook,” she quipped.
Syla was still quite a beauty and stylish.
Clad in a black and white Nike gear, complemented by her brunette weave, she turned many heads as we stood there briefly.
She whisked me into some dilapidated flat, Alexandah Court to be specific. But this was only after an initial payment of $35.
A mattress, two chairs and a television that seemed to have survived World War 1 were all there was in her apartment.
An unpleasant stench pervaded the room. However, it was pacified a little by her cheap perfume, which smelled like it was made from a mixture of different soaps and air freshener.
The $35, in cash, was to last for the next fifteen minutes, minutes I did not utilise fully since I had seen enough and my assignment was complete.
Before I faked a call and left, Tracy revealed that apart from physical sex, she offers virtual sex to clients who do not have enough money for the physical act.
“There are some men who do not have enough money but want to relieve some stress so I engage in virtual sex with them. After I receive a credit alert, I do a video call with them. We get naked till they are relieved and the ones that are too shy just ask for my nude pictures and I oblige,” she said.
Apart from short time sessions, she also has special packages for her clients. These cost more. For instance, to spend a night, her regulars have to part with $150.
She also revealed that most of her clients thought that she was a scam, only to realise that “I am very professional”.
“I now have a substantial clientele base. They always come back to me because of the excellent services I provide,” she said.
An earlier conversation with Tracy had revealed that she is a mother of two who does sex work to take care of her children. She also revealed that she has been into prostitution for the past five years.
With the rise of social media usage, sex workers are posting their pictures and prices online without fear. Some request their clients to pay before they give out their numbers. WhatsApp groups have been created to sell and buy sex, with group members posting nude pictures to attract customers.
A lot of unrestricted pages dedicated to the sex trade have also been created on social networking sites, fuelling concerns that children are being exposed to explicit content and offers of adult services.
Some of the most prominent dating websites are F**kbook Zimbabwe, ZimHookups, AdultChat Zimbabwe, NaughtyChat Zimbabwe and XTonight Zimbabwe. It also looks as though most of these sites are managed and hosted by one person or company — F**kbook Technologies.
Instant messaging apps have also been used to post lurid photographs alongside detailed descriptions. These include names, phone numbers, addresses, prices and specific sex acts on offer.
A couple of years ago, Facebook was forced to remove dozens of pages that appeared to offer sexual services, saying it had a clear set of rules and these pages broke them.
But the company conceded it could only take action when offensive items were reported by members of the public.
According to a worldwide study published last month by a French anti-prostitution group, instant messaging applications are fuelling the soaring industry of online prostitution and sexual exploitation.
The report, “Sexual Exploitation: New Challenges, New Answers”, looked at trends in 35 countries.
In Israel, dating app Tinder is the most popular tool to find prostitutes, while closer home in Zambia, students in cyber cafes join WhatsApp and Facebook groups to connect with sex workers and pimps in a few clicks, the report said.