Where can I find prostitutes in Tunisia” asked me a friend from a neighboring Arab country visiting Tunisia for the first time. I couldn’t find an immediate answer to his clear question. After thinking for a while I recommended a legal brothel set in the street Sidi Abdallah Guech, one of the many saints of the Medina of Tunis, a walk down from its famous Zitouna mosque, and not far from the mausoleum of its patron saint Sidi Mehrez. The customers that frequent the bordello are likely to be sexually frustrated locals from middle class backgrounds, tourists motivated by sexual impulse and pleasure- seekers in pursuit of fulfilling their sexual fantasies, or young men seeking a giggle at the miseries of young women, as most likely would be the curious case of our Arab neighbor.

Almost 500 extremists rallied against the only legal red light district in the Arab world earlier last year when they marched to the street of Abdallah Guech after the Friday prayer. They demanded the closer of the brothel. Another brothel in Ghardimaou, Jendouba, situated in the northwest of Tunisia was attacked by an ultraconservative group but none of these incidents could curb prostitution from the Tunisian society.

Moral outrage against prostitution has always defined the Tunisian public opinion, often stigmatizing women involved in the sex trade. Women who work as prostitutes seem to be easy targets of verbal abuse and stares of condemnation from a merciless society of “honor”. The revolutionary fervor that has swept Tunisia and brought to the forefront the Islamists on the political scene have nonetheless contributed in the thriving of sex trafficking. Young adults who are eligible for and desire to enter the workforce remain unemployed, underemployed or employed only occasionally. They have reached the marital age, They have a lot of time at their hands but no access to money and subsequently they have to get into the stage of “waithood” alongside their “adulthood”, waiting for a decent job to be able to get married to start a family and to satisfy their sexual urges in a legal and ‘proper’ framework.

Young men in Tunisia still chase older Western women either in the chat rooms via the virtual world or in the touristic spots of sunny Tunisia -not because they are fascinated by their beauty or their maturity but aspiring to gain entry in their developed countries. The easiest way to get permanent residence in a European country, at least a less risky channel than embarking on an overcrowded boat trip to the chores of Italy. “Lucky those who have had the opportunity to exchange sex for legal papers to settle abroad”. Said Aymen, a good looking athletic man in his twenties who “occupies” chat rooms and social media venues in hope to find his princess charming who would “uproot” him from the grip of poverty. This kind of marriage is likely to be a socially acceptable form of prostitution in our society so riddled by double standards.

Facebook has become a venue for soliciting prostitution, the once vibrant platform for many Tunisian youth for venting their anger with the stagnant economic conditions, organizing rallies to bring record numbers of Tunisians to the streets serves also as a ring for prostitution. The Tunisian society characterized by some rigid norms still urges the youth to deny their forbidden sexual desires. Thus, some of those youth opt for Facebook to find some ‘freelance’ prostitutes to fulfill their sexual appetite. Some of those involved in that virtual world of sex are driven by financial constraints, others by the disillusionment over their own future, and repression of the sexual energy of youth coupled by the lack of sexual education tend to be the root causes for looking for an alternative, though a virtual one.

Now some Tunisian media outlets have gone too far. The prostitution-like aspect of the Reality TV shows such as “Al Mousameh Karim” (The Merciful is Generous) and Andi Mankolllik (I Have Things To Tell You) aired in Hannibal TV and Ettounsiya respectively have become even more “distasteful” and degrading to human dignity. The stars of these shows are often uneducated desperate people (females mostly) from very disadvantaged backgrounds manipulated to air their dirty laundry in public. Last Friday, on the Mousameh Karim show the stars of the episode were two mentally disabled brothers and their spontaneous but simple-minded mother. The host asked the production team to put Mezwed music (Popular Tunisian tunes) and one of the guests started moving like an ape on the ground following the rhythm of the song unable to recognize what was going on around him, when it comes to his brother he seemed lost and confused as the audience shouted, some were laughing, and all seemed in a state of euphoric masochism, a sort of Jerry Springer in a trance.

Looking at these cheap shows that take advantage of the miseries of the underprivileged people and that attract a wide spectrum of viewers and large audiences in Tunisia, I wonder whether these shows amount to a “crime of honor” which should be sued in the courts, or we Tunisians have developed a dependence on these mean and inhumane programs. Have we become immoral and tasteless to the point of enjoying digging into the lives of our fellow citizens and exposing their secrets? Isn’t akin to having sexual intercourses with strangers? We can understand much of a society from the way in it treats its weak and vulnerable people. For lack of other description, this public display of horror and cultural hypocrisy has no other name except being a form of “societal whoredom”.