ONE of the things that infuriated me at a media training and sensitisation workshop that I attended a few weeks ago was listening to the testimonies of sex workers who narrated their experiences of being humiliated by health workers who paraded and scorned them when they went to seek treatment.
I have been seething over this unconscionable assault to the dignity of these women — and yes, sex workers have human dignity like the rest of us.
They are not animals who should be treated like sub-humans when they show up at clinics and other health institutions seeking treatment and their confidentiality has to protected like that of anyone else.
Any nurse, sister, doctor or health practitioner who has ever paraded and humiliated a patient just because they disclosed that they did sex work for a living, needs to be reminded that it is not their business to treat people’s consciences, but rather to treat their bodies.
To deny these women treatment on the basis of their own prejudices is unprofessional and absolutely outrageous – how can anyone take it upon himself or herself to withhold treatment,
deciding that someone else’s body parts should rot because they don’t happen to agree with the person’s lifestyle?
Frankly, it is none of your business what sexual lifestyle a patient chooses to have because your business is to treat them and offer advice bearing in mind that advice will not always be followed.
What really ticks me off is the flagrant abuse of power that such acts exemplify.
When someone is sick, in pain and in need of your help – you have power over him or her, over their health and even over whether they live or die.
To wield this power in an abusive fashion by determining who is “worthy” or unworthy of treatment is despicable to say the least because you are being grossly unprofessional in your conduct and even diabolical in the expression of your personal moral code.
Sick people are vulnerable people. It shouldn’t matter whether they happen to be sex workers or not, the point is they approach health institutions in search of help not judgment, recrimination, humiliation and derision.
Do your freakin’ job!
It is bad enough that these sex workers get abused left, right and centre in ways you cannot imagine and that they are outside the protection of the law because of the criminalisation of the work they are engaged in — but to have health workers joining the abuse bandwagon is just too much.
If you can’t leave your prejudices at the door, then you should change your profession and join an industry where you will not be a menace to people in dire need.
I remember getting particularly hot under the collar as one sex worker narrated how she had been lampooned by a nurse at a clinic where she had gone to seek treatment and how the nurse had yelled at the top of her voice calling her a disgrace, knowing everyone queueing in the corridor could hear every word.
As if that was not enough, the nurse had gone on to invite other colleagues to come and witness this sex worker’s genitals and laugh with derision at her infected organs expressing how it served her right for being a sex worker before refusing her treatment on the grounds that it would be a waste of medication as she would come back with another infection anyway.
It seemed too cruel to believe but knowing that the default position of many people towards sex workers is to view them as deviants, I knew that the story was true.
In fact, I am certain that some people reading this article right now will agree with the nurse’s actions and feel that the sex worker deserved to be treated in this inhumane way.
Well, no one deserves to be treated in such a fashion, especially not when they have gone to seek help from a health institution and especially not when they are unwell — why kick a person when they are down?
I remember that sex worker describing the excruciating pain she was in, the agony she had to endure having been denied treatment and the humiliation she was put through by that nurse who denied her medication that the institution had received for free from well-meaning donor agencies.
If you hate sex workers so much, if you think they are worth nothing, that they are less than you are and that their lives don’t matter, I wonder if you feel the same way about the men (or women) who purchase sex.
It is easier to frame sex work as a problem caused by women, that can only be solved by punishing women because apparently, men are not a part of the “problem”.
It is beyond appalling that some health workers behave in such a way and that their behaviour is fully sanctioned by the prejudices of the society they live and work in.
But that’s just me.
And I don’t think I am wrong (even though I could be).
We can always agree to disagree.
Delta Milayo Ndou is a journalist, writer, activist and blogger