Call to le­galise sex work

Women com­plain that some po­lice even ar­rest them for car­ry­ing too many con­doms

Afro Voice (Northern Cape) - - NEWS - SIBONGISENI MAPHUMULO si­bongisilem@the­newage.co.za

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.

PIC­TURES: NKOSINGIPHILE DLAMINI

DE­CRIM­I­NALISE IT: Sex worker No­musa Jali.

DON’T JUDGE: Ap­plied sci­ence lec­turer Bongiwe Zen­gele.

UN­DER­STAND­ING: Coun­sel­lor Por­tia Kub­heka.

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