World’s oldest profession, Dubai-style
DUBAI, UAE (eTN) - The queuing starts early at the club located on the bottom floor of one of Dubai’s numerous five-star hotels. Men of all ages and nationalities pace impatiently as they wait for someone to leave the club so they can get the nod from the bouncer to enter.
But this is no ordinary club and these men are not here for the music blaring from speakers or the expensive drinks on offer at the bar. They are here for the women.
It’s dark and smoky inside, even a little cramped, and one is forced to negotiate the crush of people just to get to the bar. The lucky few sit in the reserved booths drinking whiskey and champagne, while the rest lean up against the bar and walls.
Girls from all over the world line the walls, drape themselves in booths or just stare blankly into space as they await the clientele.
Kelly from China is one such girl. She claims to have lived in the Emirate for the past eight months and before that worked in Singapore and Hong Kong. It’s the money to be made in Dubai that brought her here, she says, and it’s not long before she is being asked by a prospective client just how much an evening would cost. At around 1,300 aed or US$400, it’s not difficult to understand why she returns to the bar night after night.
At first glance these clubs at some of the city’s most expensive hotels that cater for the many visiting businessmen, expats and locals looking to pick someone up for the evening do not appear to be much unlike bars around the world.
But one begins to notice the difference as the women start to arrive and one by one their paperwork, which includes a copy of their visa, is scrutinized. This seems to be the pivotal legal issue in Dubai. Strangely enough the management seems only concerned with this and that the girls be modestly covered up so as not show too much cleavage.
In the very same hotel one needs only take a quick ride in the elevator to visit the self-styled jazz bar that caters to a more sophisticated clientele. It’s a slow night and so the three Turkish women sitting at the bar are willing to talk a little. The most talkative of the three, Sarah (not her real name) says that she has been coming to Dubai on a regular basis for over seven years but spends part of the year back in Turkey, returning to Dubai to make money.
“The most important thing is to have the right documents. I have no problem with a visa and even have a residency card. I have a partner visa through my husband, although we are separated now,” she explains.
Sarah is at the high end of the scale asking in the region of 2,000 aed per night (about $600), and according to her there is no shortage of takers. Her friends agree and point out that it’s especially Australian, Canadian and local men who seem to be the most willing to spend their money.
“The men with the money come upstairs and because we pay a fee to be able to sit up here we can make sure that there are fewer girls to compete with and it’s only the best who are up here,” says Sarah.
A brisk 10-minute walk from the hotel and you are in one of the older, less glitzy parts of Dubai. The street is filled with take-out restaurants, two- and three-star hotels and vacant lots where men play either soccer or cricket late into the night. It’s at one of these lots that the streetwalkers of Dubai can be found.
A mixture of predominantly Asian and African woman stand grouped together around the lot leaning up against the cinder blocks and smiling coyly at the passing men. The smile is inevitably followed up by the question, “Where are you from?” and then the offer of a massage with a price to be negotiated. This is in the region of 200 to 300 aed depending on the girl and her negotiating skills.
Mary is from Nigeria. She has been in Dubai for only six weeks having entered the country on a one-month tourist visa before making the trip to Oman to renew it. She is blunt about what she is doing while she is here, “I am hustling just like all the other girls on the street.”
According to Mary, this is her second time in Dubai. Less than two years ago she spent eight months in the Emirate working as a receptionist but the cost of living versus her salary was in her opinion not viable.
“They gave me a place to stay but it was like a prison camp, we had to be inside by 12pm every night and where not allowed guests. And even with company accommodation I could not save money to send home after paying my expenses. This is not living.”
Mary now shares an apartment with four other girls and says that helps her save as much of her earnings as she can to put towards her masters degree in marketing.
“Many of the girls hustling here are graduates who can’t find work in their countries, and any work they find here does not pay enough, so they do this,” Mary says.
The marketing background comes to the fore when she discusses the clientele and the number of local men who visit the girls.
“They say that Dubai men do not do this sort of thing but I see them here late at night. The truth is that if they did not use us then we would not be here. It’s simply supply and demand,” she laughs.
Amongst the woman I spoke with one thing was clear: the girls who were in the highest demand were Arabic girls. Generally these women come from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, but they are rarely seen in hotels or on the streets.
“They are working but they dress traditionally so as not to get noticed. They will walk past a slow moving car and drop a slip of paper with their number through the window and then the man will phone later and they will arrange things,” claims Mary.
Dubai’s issues with prostitution are well documented, with the government closing down some of the most notorious venues over the past few years. Yet, according to the ladies back at the hotel, they have not experienced any sort of police scrutiny.
“We have no problems. As long as your visa is right nothing can stop you from sitting up here and having a drink; the police do not bother us,” says Sarah.
Things are not as easy for Mary and her friends on the street.
“The police do come here and if they catch you then they take you to jail and then deport you. Sometimes a man will come along and ask you to get in the car, but once you are inside he will drive you straight to the police station.”
She goes on to say that all tastes are catered for and claims that there are even two men who work along the very same street, and although not around this evening, they do a regular and brisk trade.
Moments later the girls around us begin to scatter and run across the street as a police SUV parks itself squarely on the lot where it proceeds to sit for the next five minutes. It’s not too long after the police leave before the girls begin to drift back, and very soon its business as usual.
Not all the woman working as prostitutes in Dubai do so out of choice, and while the figures are vague, anecdotal evidence supplied by volunteers working with trafficked women suggest up to half of all the woman trafficked into and through Dubai could end up being forced into prostitution.
A major issue is that the visa holder or sponsor retains the rights to the woman and so even if she escapes and seeks help, the trafficker is able to claim that he had no idea that this was going on or that the woman is lying, and so it is the woman who is often arrested, jailed and inevitably deported,” explains one such volunteer, who asked not to be named.
To get an idea of the numbers, one only has to look at the U.S. State Department report on human trafficking, which has estimated that in the region of 10,000 women from sub Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, South and East Asia, Iran, Iraq and Morocco may be victims of sex trafficking in the UAE. In reality, this number is probably much higher.
There is no doubt the UAE, and Dubai in particular, is a modern-day success story rising as it has from humble fishing villages to modern cities with a multicultural society. Many affluent expatriates relocate to the region not only for the financial reward but also for the remarkably crime-free lifestyle.
Yet one must ask, why in a country that has recently undergone much scrutiny regarding its laws governing public displays of affection, does prostitution continue to take place with barely concealed contempt through all strata of society?
Prostitution is nothing new and it’s hardly remarkable even in Dubai. The women who choose to work in this business are well aware of the dangers of their profession but are as equally aware of the relatively large amounts of money to be made: money they use to fund graduate studies, support their families or simply spoil their children.
As Sarah remarked: “My son is 13 and lives with my family back home. But I think I will bring him to Dubai for Christmas. He will like it here.”