Should Cape Town’s Strip Clubs Be Grouped in With Human Trafficking?

Recently a comment was posted on the blog post “The Face of Human Trafficking in South Africa”. This comment brought up some legitimate points and interesting questions. As I started to reply I realised that these thoughts could be explored in another post!

See the comment below, and the further explanation of what is happening within some exotic dance clubs in Cape Town:

“Lets put things in to perspective. The exotic dance industry needs to re look at the factors driving owners in to commiting crime. Essentially the girls dancing at the clubs are freelancers and the “levy” charged is to cover marketing, maintenance and of course a bit of a profit for the owners as well (the industry is not after all a non profit industry) Many girls do not realise this and do not pay this “levy” as they do not understand this basic business principle (basic example: If you are self employed you need to pay rent for your office, fact) That said, this is the part were the club owners fall foul of the law in trying to recoup initial costs and unpaid levy’s by withholding passports.

My suggestion is simple. Only employ girls that are able to pay for their return ticket themselves and do so upfront. Source these girls yourselves so that you cancell out the “agency” fees. Run your business like a business. If the girls are not able to pay their levy’s (or “rent” as per my previous example) then cut them loose as they are not generating income for themselves or your business. Yes its costing you a bit of money in permit fees and incidentals but, as a business you should accomodate for those expenses in your yearly financials.

Is it only me understanding this simple process or am I missing something here? There should be no reason this industry gets grouped with the likes of prostitution and human trafficking if run properly.”

This comment is really interesting –  Are there factors ‘driving’ owners into committing crimes, or are some of these club owners recognizing the potential for profit to be made by exploiting vulnerable women?

Interesting thought on Basic Business Principles, the contracts that these girls are asked to sign are not comparable with someone who is self-employed and needing to pay rent:

1) Dancers pay a weekly levy, 10% of which is paid out to the agent.

2) At certain clubs dancers can be fined for the following

– Walking and drinking

– Walking and smoking

– Sitting on the customers lap

– Being drunk

– Swearing on the floor

– Not being dressed and groomed properly (and that includes the nails)

– Refusal to go on the catwalk

– Sitting in the dressing room without a reason

– Under or over charging

– Fighting with other dancers

– Rude behavior with clients

– Late arrival for the shift

– Early departure before the end of their shift

– Taking cash and not (club’s name) Money

– Absent without a sick note

– Bad behavior

– Leaving to opposition

– Not attending promotions and special events

– Touching

– Under and over charging

– Not having a fantasy show

–  Not declaring their income at the end of each shift.

NB: These fines will be issued at the discretion of the manager on duty.

3) Housing – Foreign dancers who are accommodated at our flats and/ or houses are obliged to use our accommodation for the duration of their contract. The monthly rental will be paid monthly in advance.  **

The example in the last blog post, with Tatiana Malachi, her debts increased from R60,000 at the beginning of employment (which she only found out about when she approached her employers to get her passport back), to R120,000 by the end of three months. Obviously in her case, the levies she was expected to pay were not explained up front.  She was also lied to regarding needing to hand her passport in to be registered with the police, as this is not something that needs to happen in South Africa. This is not a legitimate business recouping costs, but the outright enslavement of another person through debt bondage. (I encourage you to look up the court documents and read the entire account if you still disagree!)

As you can see in the excerpts from the above contracts, there is a lot of room for potential exploitation, especially when you can be fined for something as vague as ‘bad behaviour’ or ‘not being groomed properly’, and this can be done at the discretion of the manager on duty. (People South Africa also did an article on this with first hand accounts of debt bondage within the strip club Teazers).

Many women who are exploited through dodgy labour practices are first lured to South Africa with the promise that they will make a lot of money. If they had enough money for a return ticket from the beginning, then yes, a lot less exploitation would happen. Unfortunately, the reason many are drawn to South Africa in the first place is that they do not have enough money to go overseas. That does not justify labour exploitation, but it does explain why most exotic dancers do not have the resources to pay for their return ticket upfront.

The decision to break the law by withholding someone’s passport is never justified because a business is trying to re-coup initial costs. That is still breaking the law. In the cases where a club gives the passport to an immigration lawyer so as not to break the law but still keep an individual hostage until she pays off her debt, that would still fall under debt-bondage and exploitation.

But, in reply to the end of the above comment, you are right! Run your business like a business… There should be no reason this industry gets grouped with the likes of prostitution and human trafficking if run properly.”

I agree, club owners need to uphold the same standard of treatment for their workers that we would expect from other businesses in Cape Town. The example of strip club House of Rasputin came from the newspapers covering the debt-bondage of Ms. Malachi. There have been many similar stories told about other clubs in the city, which shows that human trafficking is occurring within the strip club industry. Debt-bondage is a form of forced labour/modern slavery/human trafficking.

Any industry where a person is FORCED to work, vs being FREE to walk away could be grouped in with human trafficking. This includes Forced Prostitution, debt bondage, Lover Boys etc. and human trafficking does not just occur in sex related industries, but also in services such as hotels, hair salons, restaurants, agriculture, domestic work, factory and field work, and so on.

Our challenge is not against strip clubs in general, but any business, service or crime network that decides to exploit another human being through any of the means defined within the UN Palermo Protocol’s definition of Human Trafficking (see

So yes, there is no need for most of those businesses to be grouped into human trafficking, if they were run properly. Unfortunately, there are those who are not run properly.

I hope that answers your questions, or perhaps opens up the opportunity for more discussion on Human Trafficking within South Africa!

** This information is taken from a dancers legal contract with Cape Town strip club Mavericks. The contract for Ms. Malachi with House of Rasputin may have been different, but this was just an example.

2 Responses to “Should Cape Town’s Strip Clubs Be Grouped in With Human Trafficking?”
  1. Lynette Whittaker says:

    Dear Saskia
    The reason that these ‘business’ practices succeed is because often impoverished women are targeted for this kind of ‘job’. Some do know what work they will be doing but do now know the conditions of employment. Then they do not leave because of the various reasons which traffickers use to keep their victims compliant.
    But the ‘globalisation’ and spread of liberal democratic economic policies have made more and more people vulnerable to human trafficking. Wars, shocking poverty, social upheaval, little or no access to education, basically huge economic disrepancies in the world are push factors for global trafficking.
    Also, countries where there are no or little respect for women or where women are seen as objects to be traded or sold encourage men to buy women. Gender and racial inequality compounds this problem in South Africa and other formerly colonised countries.
    Honestly, the kind of people who use and sell and partake in the trade or not human at all. The kind of men who buy women for sex are not the kind of men who are going to any kind of empathy for the women they are buying, These women are subject to horrific abuse and dangerous sexual practices.
    Pornography and the Commercial Sex Trade need to be criminalised, because as long as there is a market for commercial sex, Trafficking will flourish. It has been found that in countries where prostitution is legal, Trafficking for Commercial Sex has increased dramatically. As long as sexual acts are objectified in the skin trade in the form of magazines, strip clubs, the internet, etc, there will be a demand. Strip clubs are not ‘harmless fun’ , they sexually charge men in an environment of ‘sex for sale.’ The demand for the exotic beauty of the women from countries of the former USSR has resulted in a proliferation of strip clubs such as Rasputin (what a name hey) and brothels where these women are often held in debt bondage and forced perform commercial sex acts has resulted in horrific human rights abuses.
    People like Mark Khozanov are Traffickers, no doubt about it, and they encourage this ‘business’ of employing women who cannot buy a return ticket as they will be trapped in the club. Often these women speak very little English and have no idea of their rights in South Africal. They know exactly who they are employing. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe and a source country for trafficked women and children. In a world where modern day slavery generates the third largest illegal revenue behind smuggling guns and drugs, the penalties for engaging in human trafficking activities should be as as severe.
    If you steal and Egg, you steal a Chicken.

  2. RedDragon says:

    The sexual and promiscuous propaganda is destroying Cape Town. The quicker these clubs get shut down the better. The same goes for night clubs. Since it attracts organized crime also it’s never a good thing. The younger generations shouldn’t be exposed to the propaganda and the same goes for parents.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Categories

%d bloggers like this: