For the first fifteen years after the first cases of AIDS were recorded in Haiti, women involved in commercial sex have shown themselves indifferent towards the repercussions of the epidemic. With time progressing and the spread of the virus causing HIV/AIDS accelerating, prostitutes now feel more and more concerned.
“I could not believe for a moment that AIDS really exists, up to the day that one of my friends was hit by the scourge of the century,” Katia Juste said, who considers herself a nomad and now lives in Gonaives, the main city of the Department of Artibonite located 171 kilometers North of Port-au-Prince.
Katia, who accepted to talk frankly, is 23 years old. She is already mother of two children without knowledge of the father’s whereabouts. “Already when I was 17, I had affairs with many men simultaneously,” she confided laughing. From one hotel to another, she traveled to all the big cities of Haiti in those years, always looking for the best affairs.
“Prior to the illness of my best friend, she who initiated me in this business (laughs…), I did not want to hear talk about AIDS and offering condoms was considered an insult to my person,” Katia indicated, while emphasizing that the troubles and the worst possible reality which she saw her friend endure, made her believe in the existence of AIDS.
Katia’s friend passed away in the beginning of May 2000 after much money and time were spent at the houngans (vodou priests).
“And today, I am aware of the level of spread of the disease, due to our ignorance, our fright of the humiliation which accompanies this illness in the Haitian society and of our incredibility,” she said with pain.
“Here, we are called ‘Missionaries’ which says that day and night we are looking for clients in the hotels. In a certain sense, I accept this label because I am committed to a mission against the propagation of HIV,” 16 years old Denise Pierre-Fils said. “No one in the world has the money to have unprotected sex with me,” she said with disdain.
Disheveled, her face full of make-up in the manner of a queen ready to board a carnival char, Denise believes that prostitutes, including men and women, are the most likely to spread HIV, due to their great mobility across the country in search of occasional partners. And therefore, she said, they should be the main target of all continuous awareness campaigns against the disease.
“‘Missionary’ day and night, I do not know my sanitary status. I simply hope that I have not been infected as yet and will never be infected, keeping up the fight against the epidemic,” she said a bit distressed by the death of her older sister and two of her friends because of AIDS.
19 year old Jessica Saget thinks that AIDS should be the subject of daily awareness raising, in the homes, bars, dance restaurants, classrooms as well as in the churches. She moved into the “Merci Jesus” hotel in Gonaives three years ago. In the early morning, she criss-crosses the city in order to find business for the night to come.
According to another prostitute, met in Miragoane, the biggest commitment should be made at the level of the Haitian Government which is responsible for shaping society. It should put in place structures and infrastructure for poor people so that these stop trampling their dignity. “I live in this situation because my life was wasted by my parents’ poverty and the lies of men,” she told.
In this city, located 96 kilometers West of Port-au-Prince, the prostitutes are called “misses of the night.” A label considered humiliating by most of the young women who practice their prostitution somewhat secretly. Only women who have arrived from the Dominican Republic or other areas of the country show their status openly. The town is so small that everybody knows everybody.
The prostitutes encountered in Miragoane criticize the machismo, which is culturally strong in the country and tends to encourage multi-partnership. “Under the pretext of virility, many men do not consent to use condoms for protecting themselves and others,” they confided, while stressing that they are concerned about AIDS, but have no choice due to socio-economic needs.
“Although most of our clients who arrive here by boat submit themselves to this precaution, they drop it very quick when the relationship begins to last and becomes serious,” three prostitutes explained, two Dominican among them who go back and forth between the coastal cities of Haiti. They are indignant that too often men step on the women’s right to enforce protected sexual intercourse.
“When I want to use a condom, the men always shout that they won’t pay,” one reiterated, indicating that most of the cases of infection are due to this type of behaviour of men who amuse themselves by abusing the safety of the female prostitutes.
“Myself, I got infected in this way, although I always wanted to put a condom before any contact,” a prostitute said sadly who works in Port-de-Paix, 257 kilometers North of the capital.
Indicating that she has always wanted to protect her clients, this 31 year old prostitute said that these often refuse to use a condom under the pretext that this object hinders their enjoyment.
“So in these circumstances, each occasion of intercourse can cause a new infection,” she said while explaining that she usually has more than 5 such occasions a day with different partners.
“Bienvenue Hotel” is located in the city centre of Port-de-Paix. There, a prostitute of 33 years old has set up herself at the threshold of the story with the bedrooms. To each new arrival, she says: “Sir, or young man, please give me 10 Gourdes.” The dialogue starts off from there.
According to her, the North-West department and the city of Port-de-Paix in particular, defy the statistics and projections on AIDS. “I am a native of Saint-Marc (96 kilometers North of the Capital) and I have been coming back and forth for 6 years. The youth do no worry much about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs),” she explained.
All too often, one thinks that this disease does not exist. People infected by HIV/AIDS always look for a scape goat, like with craft, she told.
“But as for myself,” she said, “use of condom or I refuse the client’s money. I have seen too much of this epidemic for not considering it to be just that. I would neither be criminal nor suicidal.”
Presently, a situation is developing in the Haitian Capital which is at least regrettable. Dozens of women, most of them teenagers, at night fall in impoverished quarters, sell their sex even upon the floor (due to absence of light corners are dark). Others keep working in one room, day and night.
Sex has a very low price down town, from morning to night, without any self protection. A scene that fills many people with repugnance. The bad socio-economic condition of the country is among the main causes of their involvement in a such practice, women and teenagers explain.
Unbelievable, but true!
In broad day light, sitting along the road or in the entrance to their room, prostitutes cheerfully invite all those of the opposite sex passing by. Often, before concluding the deal, the potential client asks: “How much madame, miss or darling?” And the answer is immediate: “15 Gourdes (less than US$1) at least, up to your generosity, Sir or young man.”
Despite all the efforts through education and awareness campaigns against the spreading of HIV/AIDS, it is a fact that in the present conditions, poverty remains one of the determining factors.