Prostitution occurs in a variety of forms. Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution. In escort prostitution, the act may take place at the customer’s residence or hotel room (referred to as out-call), or at the escort’s residence or in a hotel room rented for the occasion by the escort (called in-call). Another form is street prostitution.
Prostitution is illegal in most countries in Africa; nevertheless, it is frequently practice. It is usually driven by widespread poverty in many Sub-Saharan countries. Prostitution in Ethiopia is legal but operating brothels benefiting from prostitution are illegal according to Article 634 of the Ethiopian Penal Code.
It is said that prostitution is the oldest profession in Ethiopia, but one thing is for sure, it is a profession that is expanding continuously without a sign of slowing down. The business is pretty straight forward in our country, sex workers are either in the streets or bars waiting to be picked up by customers. It is not hidden; it’s in your face. When you hear about massage parlors being fronts for prostitution you might think of some Asian countries like Thailand.
A massage parlor is a place where customers receive a massage, sometimes the term massage parlor is synonymous with brothel as the term ‘massage’ may be used as a code for paid sexual favors. Knowing this one might be suspicious of the overnight sensations of 24 hours massage places in our capital, the number of massage places opening is almost equal with the number of café’s, and we all know there are a lot of café’s being opened all the time.
When I talk about these massage places I’m not talking about all of them, there are a lot of legitimate parlors as well who actually give massages. But the numbers of parlors that are fronts for prostitution are rising every day. These places that provide sexual services are fairly new, and became public knowledge recently. Many of us who have lived here all our lives don’t know the meaning of “happy ending” unless it had something to do with a movie or some sort of story.
A ‘happy ending’ happens when a person goes to one of the ‘massage parlors’ and gets a massage that ends with a sexual act hence making the customer happy. These kinds of businesses are common in countries like the United States, UK, Philippines and others but the concept is new not only to Ethiopia but Africa as well.
So where did the need come from? In a country where prostitution is legal why does one need to go to these places to get such service? The thing about these places is that it makes the customer feel somewhat comfortable, it is private, and people don’t have to negotiate. Most people that have had the experience say that it is better to go to such places because it’s a little bit classier, classy in a sense that customers don’t feel cheap.
It is difficult to differentiate from the legitimate parlors and from those that are not because the places that provide the sexual service also provide just a plain old massage. Usually at the end of a massage session customers are asked if they want the happy ending or not and things progress from there on. Some places though are lit up with bright red lights and make it more obvious by letting you choose the lady that will be giving you the massage and the extra service.
These types of establishments are bound to contribute to the growing sex tourism in the country. Sex tourism refers to travelling, typically from developed to under-developed nations, to engage in sexual activity with prostitutes. This type of tourism has been growing fast in the country also contributing to sex trafficking; one type of human trafficking is defined as using coercion or force to transport an unwilling person into prostitution or other sexual exploitation. It is said that almost 3,000 thousand people are trafficked every day in Ethiopia.
Prostitution is a USD 4.3 billion a year business in Thailand, 10 percent of tourist’s dollars are spent on sex and there are over 300,000 prostitutes working most of which are children. So when establishments like ‘massage parlors’ are opening in large numbers in a very short period of time a red flag should go up in everybody’s head. There shouldn’t be so much demand for it in a country where prostitution is legal.
Some argue that sex work is legitimate work and problems within the industry are not inherent in the work itself. It is vulnerability, not sex work, which creates victims. Sex workers should enjoy the same labor rights as other workers and the same human rights as other people. But most sex workers are not in the profession by choice, they are seen as objects that are used and reused over and over again. The issues that come with sex work like the trafficking, the abuse and HIV; human rights is when the people in the sex profession are protected from those things.
Happy ending to the customer, a little less happy ending for the sex worker, next time one decides to go to the ‘massage parlors’ one should keep in mind the whole alarming issues that go with the sex industry. Then a happy ending doesn’t seem so happy.