Dubai’s skyline and beaches are a prime destination for women looking for a night out in the sun.
But in many of the UAE’s most expensive neighbourhoods, the female escort market is booming.
It’s the latest twist in a complex globalisation that has seen a growing number of international women flocking to the Gulf emirate to work as escorts or prostitutes.
While women are expected to wear modest outfits to attract clients, some are taking to the streets in colourful, high-waisted swimwear and heels, and are also getting into barbecues and bar fights.
These women, known as “sex workers”, are often referred to as “exotic”, with the word used loosely.
While some of them are licensed escorts, many of them operate independently.
“There is no age limit,” says Al Jazeera’s Chris Bevan, who visited some of the most affluent districts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi last year.
“The number of escorts is very high.
A recent survey conducted by the Dubai Association of Sex Work Professionals (DASP) found that more than half of the adult female escort in the UAE are women aged between 16 and 39. “
Many of them have their own personal style.”
A recent survey conducted by the Dubai Association of Sex Work Professionals (DASP) found that more than half of the adult female escort in the UAE are women aged between 16 and 39.
“They have been trained in massage, body massage, sex work, and they have been through the process of a sex worker,” says DASP’s founder, Nour Al-Shamsi.
“This is their first time, and their first experience of being exploited and exploited as sex workers.”
The number of women in prostitution in the Gulf rose from 1,735 in 2010 to 4,095 in 2014.
According to DASp, the number of sex workers in the country is projected to double by 2030.
But many of these women are young and inexperienced.
“Most of the young girls I have met who have gone through the course have had no previous experience of prostitution, and have had some experience with drugs and alcohol,” says Dr Nouri al-Din, a medical doctor and specialist in women’s health at the University of Dubai.
“It is quite difficult to find escorts for women who are inexperienced.”
In one case, a 17-year-old girl from the eastern city of Mokha, who was recently released from jail after serving three years for her involvement in prostitution, had been working as a prostitute for four years when she was arrested in January.
She had been charged with prostitution and trafficking.
The young woman, who has been referred to only as Jane Doe, said she had been in the industry since she was 15 and had been arrested when she tried to escape.
“I’m very scared and scared that the police will come after me,” she told Al Jazeera.
She has since started a social media campaign, which has been shared over 100,000 times on Facebook.
“What can I do to protect myself?
I have no idea what will happen,” she said.
The woman was also charged with trafficking in women.
According the DASM, the majority of the sex workers interviewed in the survey were working in the private sector, though a small number were working for private companies.
“These are mostly young people who have been lured by the promises of a better life and who have come to the city because they think they can earn money there,” says Ms Al-Dins.
Many of these young women have been tricked by their pimps into signing a contract which includes a promise of employment and freedom from arrest.
Many young women say they are lured into prostitution by the promise of better pay, freedom from prosecution and access to the police.
“Some of these people have made false promises, but they are still making money,” says Mr Al-Alwani.
“As the police and the courts do not work for the people, the police are the only ones who are working to protect the women.
They are the ones who make money for these girls.”
In response to the growing demand for escorts outside of the Gulf, the government has introduced new laws and increased penalties for anyone caught dealing in women, including for those who work as sex tourists.
But for some, the issue is far from over.
“If you’re in Dubai, you know that the majority are working in prostitution,” says Nouri.
“In the private sectors, they are just living their life.”