Should you happen to be a male tourist indulging in a spot of Moroccan nightlife and not be aware of its somewhat seedier side, you could be forgiven for thinking that the cities are brimming with beautiful, single Moroccan women that just happen to find you utterly irresistible. Yet for many of these seductive women, their glamourous exteriors hide a truth that is dangerous and often stigmatised, and that many in society deem disgusting and shameful. These women, who for doubtless a variety of personal reasons, have turned to selling their bodies on the cities streets in order to make money.
As a child growing up in a relatively rural area in England with little experience of city life, women who were paid for sex were often the butt of playground jokes and it was common practice to insult a fellow classmate by inferring that their mother might in fact be a prostitute. References to these women being dirty or so desperate for sex that they go out onto the streets looking for it were commonplace among my peers, and the truth behind the profession and the women as individuals was never given much thought.
Aside from a brief sighting of a ‘lady of the night’ in Soho, London when I was on a school trip there as a teenager, I had never seen a sex worker on the street or in a truck park, or anywhere else for that matter, until I happened to be travelling through Spain and into the south of France several years ago, where you couldn’t help but notice them as they stood by the side of the road in various alluring poses, awaiting trade. Prostitution in Spain doesn’t have the stigma that it has in other countries and according to some sources, using the services of a prostitute can be far less damaging to a marriage than an affair.
There is certainly a stigma attached to prostitution in Morocco, though, and despite it having been illegal since the 1970s, it is now widespread and is mainly concentrated in those cities oriented towards tourism, such as Marrakech, Agadir, Tangiers and Casablanca.
It could be argued that as long as there is a market for such a profession, then surely the sex workers are doing nothing more than meeting the needs of their clients, some of whom might fulfill their sexual appetites in other ways should those services not be on offer. I was once told, by a man, I hasten to add, that if such services weren’t readily available, those men who find it impossible to control their sexual urges might instead prey on vulnerable women in a manner that could lead to incidents of non-consensual sex taking place, i.e. rape.
I would argue that there will always be those men who are willing to pay for sex and those men who aren’t, and that a small minority of men will be involved in the sexual assaults of innocent women, a simple and sad fact of life, in my view. But whatever your personal opinion on the subject, the fact of the matter is that prostitution does exist regardless of its illegality, and there is a much darker and frightening side to it all, too.
In 2009 it was estimated that 25,500 people were living with HIV in Morocco, and it is fast becoming a problem of epidemic proportions. Statistics show that the virus is mainly transmitted through heterosexual sex, with a small percentage being transmitted between men, and women now account for almost half of all infections. Many female sex workers in Morocco are perpetuating the problem, unwittingly, perhaps, in some cases, and although it is not my place to pass judgement on why those women find themselves in that profession in the first place, it cannot be denied that unprotected sex between prostitutes and their clients is causing the virus to spread at an alarming rate.
In a conversation with a volunteer at the local public hospital who frequently encounters female sex workers infected with the HIV virus, I was told that many of the women, who for whatever reason have engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse with their clients, go on to harbour deep feelings of resentment and bitterness towards the men they contracted the virus from, and therefore have no qualms about passing it on to other clients. In other cases where married women have contracted the virus before they met their husbands, have engaged in sexual intercourse with another man while married, or may even have been raped, the shame of the disease is so great that if the women were to tell their husbands that they were HIV positive they would doubtless be expelled from the family home, and more than likely end up on the streets. So she keeps quiet and continues to have sex with her husband; it is then inevitable that he becomes infected with the deadly virus and any subsequent children that she then gives birth to are also infected.
It is clearly a vicious and never-ending cycle and, as for a solution, I’m willing to guess that until stricter measures are undertaken to prevent prostitution and find alternative ways of helping these women earn a living, or better still, educating the men who use their services, the HIV virus will continue to spread at an alarming and deadly rate.