Call to legalise sex work
Women complain that some police even arrest them for carrying too many condoms
THE oldest profession in the world came under scrutiny yesterday at a human rights dialogue on decriminalisation of sex work and the human rights violation of sex workers from both society and the law.
Under the heading Sex Work In South Africa: Implications for sexual violence and public health discussion, the public seminar was held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZ), bringing together sex workers, academics and social workers to review possible changes in the law to their violation.
Participants were united in their call for decriminalising sex work in South Africa, saying that legalising the profession could bring an end to the violation of sex workers who are at the mercy of a range of agencies including the police.
Speakers argued that legalising sex work would mean that the police would have to protect sex workers who constantly face discrimination, abuse and rape.
Sex worker Nomusa Jali said the stigma surrounding sex work and the taboo surrounding it perpetuated the violation of sex workers.
“Everybody has sex, anywhere and anytime. The only difference is that we are providing a service for money.
“As long there is a demand there will be the service because people leave their girlfriends and wives at home to come to us. Yet sex work remains a big snake that nobody wants to touch,” Jali said.
Forced to live a double life, a number of sex workers have gone underground amid fears of discrimination from society and harassment from the police.
Jan Thathaih of LifeLine, an NGO working closely with sex workers, said in the Ugu district alone they were in contact with more than 3 000 sex workers and had at least 58 sites in popular holiday destinations such as Umzumbe and uMdoni.
It emerged that sex workers were even arrested for carrying too many condoms. “Sex workers face constant abuse and are treated far worse by police who arrest them for carrying too many condoms and are then in courts and those very means of protection is used as evidence against them.
“Recently an eight-months pregnant sex worker was raped and left humiliated by the ordeal,” Thathaih said.
Dr Monique Emser said such abuse could be avoided through legal reform. Emser said by legalising sex work, those in the industry would be monitored and their rights would be upheld, bringing back their dignity. “Afford sex workers the same rights as any other worker.
“The power balance would shift, reducing exploitation which leaves the workers vulnerable to abuse and violence. They are now scared to even carry condoms giving rise to unprotected sex,” Emser said.
She said a recent survey conducted among sex workers revealed that about 70% were HIV-positive.
Social worker Ayanda Sithole of the Open Door Crisis Centre in Pinetown said that this was fuelled by unprotected sex being more profitable.
“Most of the sex workers that I meet say they don’t like doing this line of work but have been forced into it by poverty and in some cases, drug addiction.
“It is not a safe industry, they are constantly faced with violence and are in need of protection,” Sithole said.
UKZN lecturer and gender activist Bongi Zangele said rather than criminalising the sex worker it was time that law enforcement agents arrested those who solicited sex work as well.
DECRIMINALISE IT: Sex worker Nomusa Jali.
DON’T JUDGE: Applied science lecturer Bongiwe Zengele.
UNDERSTANDING: Counsellor Portia Kubheka.