The so-called ‘blesser’ culture has not died out in South Africa. Instead, it has evolved into a growing trend across social media and the internet causing much concern amongst law enforcement officials, the National Prosecuting Agency, and other humanitarian organisations. What is a ‘blesser’? Is it truly something to be concerned about? Isn’t the government already intervening? If not, what can the concerned citizen do about it? These are all questions that should be brought into the public space and thoroughly examined.
According to the National Prosecuting Agency, blesser relationships could be considered human trafficking (Simpson, 2021). The United States of America is much more explicit concerning this, stating that “exploiting a minor through survival sex (exchanging sex/sexual acts for money or something of value, such as shelter, food, or drugs)” is a criminal offense, falling under the sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2014, p. 8).
The same research document highlights the sexualisation of children as an increased risk factor of human trafficking (2014). Blesser relationships are probably one of the main ways of sexualising South African school children and preparing them for the sex trade, either through groomed consent or trafficking.
Informal interviews with students who matriculated between 2018 and 2020 reveal that blesser relationships are rife at school, involving teachers, members of SGBs, and taxi drivers. They also revealed that they never reported these incidents because they “did not think it was wrong” and nothing was done about it when reported (personal communication, May 20, 2022). We are failing our children, as a society, if they do not think that there is anything ‘wrong’ with the sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors.
A simple google search reveals no formal intervention against this growing trend of sexual exploitation. It does, however, deliver hundreds of results for ‘blesser’ dating sites and individuals openly advertising “100% discrete and anonymous” sexual exploitation. The question begs itself, why is nothing being done about this form of sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors? Why are paedophiles allowed to advertise themselves so openly on the platforms accessible by children?
The lack of direct intervention is shocking and should be addressed speedily and effectively. We should be educating and empowering our young people to defend themselves against exploitation and achieve their full potential. We need to act. Now.
National Research Council, & Institute of Medicine. (2014). Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States: A guide for the legal sector. National Academies Press.
Simpson, S. (2021, August 26). ‘Blesser and Blessee’ relationships could amount to human trafficking – NPA. The South African. https://www.thesouthafrican.com/news/blesser-and-blessee-relationships-could-amount-to-human-trafficking-npa-26-august-2021/