When not making films, Jeffrey Porter can be found wandering the back streets of the world, photographing the intimate lives of people and their environments.  Porter’s photo essay portraying young prostitutes who ply their trade at Hyena Square in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (left) appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Nieman Reports, a quarterly published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Hyena Square, Dar es Salaam’s notorious bastion of commercial sex workers, is far removed from the commercial capital’s busy business center and tourist hotels.  Hidden away like a dirty little secret, the open air flesh market is buried deep in one the city’s densely populated squatter settlements—at the end of a long, dusty gauntlet of kerosene-lit fried fish stands and corrugated metal shacks where sugar is sold by the teaspoon.

When twilight turns into night, alcoholics and junkies cram into the baked earth square’s legendary “local brew shops” to sip away life’s hardships.  Ruthless street hustlers and hopelessly unemployed men crowd around dimly lit billiard and “kolokolo” tables, vying for each other's food money.  And dozens of startling emaciated young women, seemingly emerge from the shadows to “sell their bodies."  Many have nasty bruises and long, narrow scars where abusive “customers” have slashed their skin with knives and razors—some with babies on their backs, swathed in cloth, moving to the sway of their mothers' hips. Others sit in front of small rooms along pitch-black passageways, waiting trolling johns.

The girls come from Tanzania’s remote, rural areas, lured away from their dirt-poor villages by promise of a better life Dar es Salaam.  But when they arrive in the chaotic, exhaust-choked city, they quickly discover what thousands of other young girls who have arrived before them already know; jobs are scarce, and without any secondary education or vocational training, their bodies become their only resource—and last hope for survival.  Sadly, with the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS and other deadly pitfalls associated with prostitution, very few survive.