They are raped and roughed up by thugs and their clients. They are paid a couple of kilogrammes of maize or airtime instead of the money as agreed before the sex service.
But they are afraid to report to police about the abuses for fear of being abused also by the men in uniform.
These are some of the findings of a research on sex work in Malawi, a study which was conducted in September last year, commissioned by Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) and supported by UNFPA.
The research report, published last week, details among other issues the torture and the pain sex workers undergo in the hands of their clients, thugs and from police
authorities in their under-the-cover-of-night business.
Titled "Counting the uncatchables", it gives accounts of the sex workers themselves most of who claim they are driven into the business because of poverty resulting from broken homes and loss of parents to death.
Nearly 70 percent of the 930 sex workers interviewed in 10 selected districts reported they had been abused.
Getting beaten was the highest on the list as about 50 percent of the women said they had been abused physically.
Rape ranked second on the list followed by emotional abuse, arbitrary arrests by police authorities and human trafficking, in that order.
The sex workers reported that top on the list of their abusers are their very clients.
But the culprits also include thugs, street kids, bar or entertainment place attendants, owners and DJs.
"On specific forms of abuse respondents experienced from law enforcers, the most frequently mentioned form of abuse was disturbance of sex trade at night,
unwarranted arrests, being raped, being forced to pay some money in exchange for not being arrested, being subjected to forced sex and having cellular phones snatched," says the report.
Section 146 of the Penal Code makes it an offence for a woman to live on the earnings of prostitution or influencing others to engage in prostitution while Section 147
criminalises the keeping of brothels.
Reads the report: "Essentially, the law criminalises the involvement of third parties in sex work, and not necessarily sex work or what is commonly known as prostitution.
"However, in practice, law enforcers usually carry out night raids and arrest anyone found loitering in entertainment and public places, and prostitutes constitute the majority of those arrested. Once arrested, the people are charged with minor infractions such as being found idle and disorderly and rogue and vagabond."
But who are their clients? Is it the rich or the poor, black or white?
"We have sex with anybody regardless of their colour, race or where they are coming from.
Whether he is rich or poor provided he will be able to pay the money you have agreed.
"Whether he is handsome or not, whether he has taken a bath or not, we don't choose because money is money. We don't really care about
who the person is," one Karonga worker told the researchers.
But it is not always that all of them get money after offering sex as it is assumed.
Of the 950 interviewed in the research, 137 were at a certain point paid in kind including clothes, groceries, cell phones, rental payments
Some even reported to have been given bags of maize as payment.
Gift Trapence is Executive Director for Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), one of the organisations that works on reaching out to sex workers.
He said on Friday that what Malawi needs now sensitisation of everyone including the police on the gender-based violence that sex workers face, besides empowering the sex
workers to know their rights.
Ultimately, he said, Malawi would have to review the law which authorities have used to claim sex work is not recognised.
"It is not correct that sex work is not recognised. The law only prohibits living on earnings of prostitution. If the problem is the law then you need to enlighten people on the
problems of the law.
"Again [there is] lack of comprehensive programmes focusing on sex work because people are worried with the law. If that is the case then let us review the law," he said.
National Police spokesperson Davie Chingwalu said he had not yet seen the report asaying he could not comment in detail on allegations against the police.
"But we are here to follow the justice system and if the sex workers say they are abused by police officers, they should report these issues to those in charge of police stations
and action will duly be taken.
"If they are reporting their experiences anyhow, it's likely that we will not know anything and we can't take action," he said.
The report suggests other approaches of reaching out to sex workers with various services.
"It is critical that public health and human rights-based approaches are adopted to address this gap. Clearly, this requires harnessing
capacities in public health and human rights on the part of implementing institutions," it recommends.
The study estimates that there are about 19, 295 sex workers in Malawi.
It covered Karonga, Kasungu, Lilongwe,Salima, Ntcheu, Mangochi, Blantyre, Thyolo, Chikhwawa and Mwanza and involved visits to 113 places of entertainment.