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It is certainly not the only Middle Eastern country where sex work has become commonplace. But controversy around prostitution often looks the wrong way, or sees what it wants to see. A closer look at the phenomenon of sex work - or rather, what is assumed to be sex work — in Jordan brings up a complicated picture.
There are horrific stories of human trafficking, and of young women and even children being deceived and forced to enter prostitution. And within that there are shades of grey. Women do often choose such arrangements, but that may be because of a lack of better choices. Sex work is a controversial topic in Jordanian society. Many Jordanians are angered by its presence, and there have been activist campaigns to end prostitution in areas where it is common.
But though prostitution is technically illegal, there are plenty of loopholes in the law to be exploited, although quite often authorities turn a blind eye anyway. However, when she failed to contact her relatives in Russia for a week, a search party was organised to find her and her friend because it was feared they may have been trafficked for sex work. In the end, she was found safe and deported from the kingdom. But the fact that a young Russian woman taking a bar job in Amman sparked such concern says a lot about the connotations attached to foreign - and especially Slavic - women working in Jordanian nightlife.
Indeed many are, although many more hail from other post-Soviet and central Asian countries, including Ukraine, Estonia, Romania, Uzbekistan and Moldova. In fact, the dynamics of Russian bars are more complicated. The women make their money by getting the clients to buy drinks at the bar.
Making their clients laugh is important. Men would often take the opportunity to talk about their problems to someone who listened attentively. This is not to say sex never comes into the equation. The women working there know that many of their regular clients come back to the bar because they hope - one day - that they might be able to persuade the woman they like to either have sex, or to have a romantic relationship with them.