It is 2200 hours on Friday. About 100 girls actively pitch for clients on a Telegram platform with the hope of catching the eye of men who would pay for their bodies and have them for the night. This is an emerging form of prostitution popularly known as ‘hook-up’ – a departure from the old practice where commercial sex workers operated in sequestered places to offer sex in exchange for money.
The Telegram platform, solely dedicated to sex trading activities, has garnered more than 21,000 members. One of the advertisements on the platform reads (edited): “Promotion, promotion, promotion. Two rounds with BJ and romance for a cool price. I don’t go out. I host in a hotel at…” The advertisement mentions services rendered and adds: “I give boyfriend treatment with respect. Come to me and you will not regret.”
A message from another certified account reads: “Ignore your annoying wife and come to me for the best treatment and trust me you will like my personality.” It mentions the locations the advertiser visits within Accra and adds contact details. Some of the users go to the extent of showing their nakedness and their faces to attract clients.
Some advertisers also sell sexual enhancement products and aphrodisiacs and tout the efficacy of those products. The Ghana News Agency’s investigative team has identified more than 10 separate groups on Telegram where young women prospect for clients for paid sex and are willing to risk anything for the money. A member of the news team booked Grace (not her real name) and met her at a Guest House at Lapaz, a suburb of Accra, where she hosts her clients.
A fair slim woman, who is in her late twenties, meets him at the reception and takes him to her room on the second floor of the building. Her room is filled with an intense smell of a substance (like incense) that appears to have been just burned. She explains that she burns the substance before she receives a client to drive away evil spirits because “not everyone that comes here has good intentions.”
“You don’t know the intentions of the customer, so this offers me spiritual protection,” she said. A Bible, assorted lubricants, condoms, and tissue lie on a table beside a single-sized bed. Asked about the Bible, she replies: “You think I’m a bad girl, so I don’t know God,” and giggles.
She cuts the conversation and demands payment before she renders her service. In a telephone conversation before the visit, it was agreed that she would offer one round of sex at a fee of GHc200. Then she spells her rules: “You cannot touch my breast or kiss me. My breast is for my boyfriend so you must pay extra 50 cedis to touch,” she says, and adds: “I can offer you a 360 service with good romance if you pay 400 cedis.”
Asked if she offers unprotected sex, she reluctantly replies: “I’ll consider it if you pay me GHS1,000.” The client opts for a short massage “without a happy ending” at a fee of GHc200, which will last between 30-40 minutes. In a friendly conversation, Grace shared that she is a 28-year-old mother of two. She migrated from the North East Region three years ago to Accra to work and fend for her family.
She said her difficulty in finding a job that would match her needs made her join the hook-up business two years ago. She declines to mention how much she makes in a day but says her dream is to raise enough money to travel outside the country in search of greener pastures. Grace says she is not comfortable with the business because it is “disgusting”, and the risk outweighs the benefits.
“I will not advise any young woman to do this business. One of our girls disappeared after visiting a client about three months ago and since then I only host in a hotel where I feel safe,” she said. An engagement with a lot more ladies through the Telegram platform revealed that these young women are overly ambitious and are willing to risk their health and safety for money.
Some of them are either in school or have graduated and after many years of not finding jobs, resort to sex work to earn a living. An assessment of the profiles of the users of the Telegram platform indicates that many of the ladies are migrants from neighbouring African countries who have settled in Ghana to undertake such activities for survival. Commercial sex work has been identified as a high-risk activity that spreads sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Dr Stephen Ayisi Addo, Programmes Manager, National AIDS/STI Control Programme, said female sex workers have a higher HIV prevalence rate as compared to the general population. He said most people who engage in multiple sexual encounters are unaware of their HIV status, making it even more dangerous. “If you compare the general population prevalence, which is 1.7 per cent, with female sex workers, including those who engage in hook-up, their prevalence is 4.6 per cent. This means that if you take a 100 people, about five of them will be positive,” Dr Addo said.
Dr Addo said if condoms were not used well during a sexual activity both the commercial sex worker and the client would be exposed to higher risk. On the daily basis, more online sex trading services appear on social media platforms. The GNA gathered that certified users of a particular Telegram hook-up service pay between GHc 300 and GHc400 fortnightly to ‘faceless’ Group Administrators to be permitted to advertise on the platform.
Mr Adib Saani, Security Analyst and Executive Director, the Centre for Human Security and Peace Building, said the pervasiveness of uncontrolled online dating and hook-up sites has serious cyber security implications, as criminals could use such platforms to lure and defraud their victims.
He added that children could be susceptible and exposed to inappropriate content and activities online and advised parents to be cautious about their children’s internet habits by restricting some applications on their phones.
The rise in commercial sex workers has been linked to dwindling employment opportunities in the country, particularly among the youth. The 2021 Population and Housing Census conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service indicates that more than 1.55 million people or 13.4 per cent of Ghana’s economically-active population are out of work — as compared to the of 5.3 per cent jobless rate recorded in the 2010 census.
The World Bank in 2016 projected that Ghana would have to create at least 300,000 new jobs annually to absorb the increasing number of unemployed people given the country’s growing youth population. Mr Solomon Adjei, President, the Association of Ghana Start-ups, said the “hook-up” trade should not be considered as a business and warned that such activities could jeopardise the future and productivity of the youth.
He appealed to the Government to roll out deliberate policies to support young people who intend to run their own businesses after school. The GNA’s investigations suggest that the main drivers of the hook-up business in Accra are unemployment, uncontrolled immigration, and the absence of a robust national online policy that will check and restrict illicit online activities, especially on social media.
The rate at which the youth engage in such activities should cause national concern as it has implications for the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections, cyber security, child safety, and the country’s rich cultural, religious, and social values.
A GNA Feature by Edward Acquah