• Wandi with one of the raid officers. Addicted to drugs, under severe threat of violence with burn marks and scars to prove it, and with no trust in the police who’d arrested her for prostitution in the past, she resisted leaving, stating that “her man” would use witchcraft on her if she ever ran away. She was found murdered a number of months after this raid.


      This is a collection of intersecting stories, which together tell of what can be found in suburbs across the country. During the 2010 Football World Cup, I received a phone call asking for help from a contact and friend, Babalwa, who works with sex workers and victims of trafficking on Johannesburg’s streets. Babalwa had found Musa (a pseudonym). I had previously met Musa on the streets with Babalwa, on a night we helped her escape. Sadly as is common with many victims, upon escape, Musa returned.

      Having left what was once familiar, even if inherently dangerous and criminal; the confusion, uncertainty and fear that result from their trauma as well as their dependence on their pimps; their new ‘safe’ situation is foreign and strange to them. Additionally, if addicted to drugs and without timely intervention, their need for their daily fix frequently lures them back.

      Musa once again wanted to leave but was just as fearful as before. She was being forced to sleep with men everyday by the man who again controlled her, and other girls in the house; and like them, she had to ‘pay her way’. Musa knew some others who wanted to escape, so she decided to try again, and called Babalwa. She didn’t know how to get out otherwise.

      A police raid was conducted early in the morning at the house, a functioning brothel, in Rosettenville Johannesburg. Within the house as well as outside in the yard, there were numerous rooms with numerous girls present. No arrests were made, as there was nothing tangible on which to pin arrests, like drugs or weapons. And besides one young man who, it became apparent stayed at the house as a guard, no other men were present as the pimps live off-site. So police merely left the premises. The girls all claimed to be over 18, many are afraid of the police and don’t view them as ‘help’ but rather as additional ‘abusers’.

      Mawande, a girl found in the house that day, left with Babalwa.