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#SliceOfLife: This is what it’s like being a sex worker: ‘Police dragged me out in public naked’

Go inside one of the country’s most dangerous jobs.

My name is Cleopatra. I’m from Mitchell’s Plain and I’m a sex worker.

I identify as a trans woman. I wear short mini skirts and high heels. I’ve been doing sex work for seven years and have been living on the street for 10 years.

I’m working here in Cape Town, under the bridge. The police chase me away like a dog.

They would shout: “Ai ai, move move! You can’t stand here!”

I would ask them: “But why can’t I stand here? Why can’t I walk up and down here?”

“You can’t just chase me. I’m not a dog. I’m a human being.”

One night I did business with this guy. Then the privates [the police] came up. I was naked and the client had his pants down.

The one policeman grabbed the client.

I said: “No stop it! You can’t come just like that and grab the man. You have no right to do that.”

Then the other two policemen came. Each one took me by an arm.

I was still naked.

They pulled me around, dragged me around. Then they took me out into a public space. Everyone could see me.

I pleaded with them: “Can’t you give me my skirt? Or put me in the van? You can’t mos do this to me.”

They refused to put me in the van.

“Ja, but you’re a man,” they said. “You come and fuck with other men here and let yourself be fucked in your ass and you give the men blowjobs and things!”

But I am not a man. I’m a transwoman.

The people were standing around, looking and laughing.

“Hahaha”, they laughed. “Look, it’s a man!” — Cleopatra, a sex worker in Cape Town as told to Dylan Bush

Dylan Bush was a health journalist at Bhekisisa from February 2016 to September 2023.