Sex sells and everyone is buying.
Our demands have created a market, a profession that we then turn around and reject. Sex workers become “burdens” for the very society that made them.
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Women in conservative cultures like ours are usually viewed as financial burdens. Uneducated, underfed and usually abandoned to fend for themselves, they are often tricked or forced into sexual slavery.
Twenty-four year old Mina Akter is a streetwalker in Dhaka.
Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
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Clasping her hands to lend herself courage, Mina speaks of the atrocities committed against her by clients, local influential people and law enforcers Dhaka Tribune
When she was only two months old, her parents died. She was sent from Kurigram to Dhaka to be raised by her paternal aunt and grandfather.
One day, when she was five, she and her grandfather were walking hand in hand in Bhashantek when they were separated by the crowds.
Lost and alone, she was approached by a concerned woman who took Mina home with her.
Mina lived with the woman for six years and only later realised she was a female sex broker.
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Sex workers are seen in a negative light by society and so justice is often denied to them by the law Adil Sakhawat/Dhaka Tribune
At 11 years of age, the broker took Mina to a residence in Gazipur.
It was the beginning of the end of her childhood.
“They tied me up and tortured me. When they failed to coerce me into having sex with them, they gave me sleeping pills and then raped me. Three days later, when I woke up, I was in severe pain and there was blood all over my pants,” she says, unable to stop her tears.
Later, Mina found out that the broker had been paid Tk1.5 lakh for the two days she had been sexually abused.
“I had no choice then but to enter the profession. The broker kept me locked up at her house where she continued to rent me out but never gave me any money, only food,” Mina recalls.
When she turned 14 Mina attempted to escape and start over.
Luck, however, was not on her side. She met a person in Gulistan who said he would help her, but trapped her and sold her to a brothel in Faridpur.
Three days later, the brothel owners forced her to sign a contract which officially identified her as a sex worker.
At one point, during a police raid on the brothel, she approached the policemen and asked them to help her get away. They took her away with them.
Back in Dhaka, she tried in vain to get a job but was only met with censorship and sexual propositions from potential employers. Disheartened and discouraged, she returned to the only profession she knew.
As a streetwalker, Mina was increasingly harassed and abused by clients, local influential people and by the law enforcers.
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Streetwalkers run a high risk of being killed or tortured since refusal to comply with clients' demands often ends in violence Adil Sakhawat/Dhaka Tribune
“Law enforcers are supposed to uphold the law and work for the security and well-being of all citizens, but they frequently harass us. Once when I went to the police for help, they called me a whore and turned me away,” she says.
“Clearly, the law is only meant for the wealthy and the powerful. It is not for people like us."
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Mina echoed sex workers worldwide, demanding respect, basic human rights and a fighting chance at the pursuit of happiness.
“What is wrong with what we do? If we did not exist, other women probably would not be able to lead regular lives as they do.”