Female sex worker objectified

Date: August 15, 2012
  • SHARE:

Name of the article: Blindness no barrier for sex worker

Name of publication: The Sunday Mail

Name of publisher: Tendai Chara

Date: 1-7 January 2012

Country: Zimbabwe

Theme: Sex Work

Skills: Language, perspective, portrayal, sources

Genre: Features

Gem classification: Subtle stereotype

In Zimbabwe just like most Southern African countries, it is illegal to practice sex work. But despite criminalisation,   sex work continues to enable many people meet their basic needs. This media highlight analyses an article published in a Zimbabwean paper – The Sunday Mail – about a 34 year old visually impaired woman who has been plying the trade since her youthful age.

The headline is relevant to the article as it introduces and summarises the content fairly. Further, the headline challenges some people’s perception that looks at disabled people as unable people.

The article uses two identified and more than two unidentified sources. Susan (not her real name), the main character in the story, is given more prominence and this makes the article more credible. However, there are ethical questions on the means through which The Sunday Mail In-Depth crew convinced the woman to divulge information they needed. The author writes that Susan was unwilling to “discuss her disability and its relationship to her late night escapes,” but she later gave them an “interview” after they made her drink “too many”. Was it right to make her drink too may so that she speaks under influence of alcohol? Further, the story uses anonymous sources and no reason is given for doing so. Anonymous sources always affect news credibility unless otherwise.

From a human rights perspective, the article is missing the voices of activists who could have given it a different angle and depth. Activists have for long been advocating for legalisation and recognition of sex work. Asking them to comment on the matter would have incited comments on why it is necessary to legalise sex work.

Although the article tried to positively profile Susan, the reporter fell in a trap of using derogatory and stereotypical language that objectified the subject. For instance, the article referred to Susan as “a lady of the night,” “hooker,” “prostitute” and referred to her work as “late night escapades”. In addition, the reporter calls decriminalisation of sex work campaign by legislator of Bulawayo East, Tabitha Nkhumalo “an ambitious crusade.” By calling it “an ambitious crusade”, the reporter insinuates that the legislator is embarking on a daunting task that might not see the light of the day.

However, in some instances, the article used positive language in describing Susan. Some part of the article reads “the well groomed lady of the night was not only cheerful but exhibited a fashion consciousness and cleanliness outclassing the majority of other prostitutes in the bar.”

Visual Images
The article uses an image of the reporter posing with Susan. The identity of the sex worker was partially blurred which is ethically accepted. However, the image and the caption objectify Susan. From the image and caption, it is not clear whether the picture was taken with or without the consent of Susan. But considering that, the source was initially refusing to give them an interview and did so after she got “drunk”, it can be concluded that they reporter took advantage of her drunkenness to have this picture taken.

Story angle
Susan’s voice predominates in the article and the writer tried to portray the subject on a positive light, a rare thing by the media whenever they are reporting on commercial sex workers. On a positive note, the article is not just a mere account of Susan’s commercial life but a bigger picture of what ought to be done about commercial sex work in general. The last three paragraphs of the article bring in an issue of decriminalising the act as advocated by legislator Khumalo. Implicitly, the article is telling authorities that the society cannot keep criminalising sex work and that it is against human rights to criminalise sex work. Unfortunately, the decriminalising issue could have been supported further by human rights activists whose voices are virtually missing in the article. The activists were likely to comment on how criminalisation of commercial sex work perpetrates violence against female sex workers.

Placement and positioning
The article was accorded prominence by placing it on features page.

Training exercises
– What is a legal status of sex work in your country and how does that affect commercial sex workers?
– From a human rights perspective, write a feature article or an analysis advocating for legalisation of sex work.

Other training resources
We need to legalise sex work a GL opinion and commentary piece
– Gender & Media Diversity Journal issue 7, “Gender, economic empowerment and 2010,” pp 52
– Gender & Media Diversity Journal issue 7, “Pimp my ride for 2010: Sex work, legal reform and HIV/Aids,” pp 80



Comment on Female sex worker objectified

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *