WHY WE WANT TO BE LE­GAL

‘Why do we con­tinue be­ing la­belled as crim­i­nals when we don’t kill or rob any­body but do this so that we can feed our chil­dren?’

CityPress - - Front Page - NTOMBIZODWA MAKHOBA and ZINHLE MAPUMULO news@city­press.co.za

It’s the world’s old­est pro­fes­sion, but it’s still il­le­gal to prac­tise it. And now rights groups have lam­basted a rec­om­men­da­tion by the SA Law Re­form Com­mis­sion (SALRC) to keep sex work crim­i­nal, say­ing it does noth­ing to pro­tect the work­ers’ rights. Two weeks ago, the SALRC re­leased its long-awaited re­port on how sex work should be reg­u­lated and rec­om­mended its con­tin­ued crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion, draw­ing out­rage.

Mosima Kekana, an at­tor­ney at the Women’s Le­gal Cen­tre, said: “The crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of sex work is in­ef­fec­tive as a de­ter­rent, and this leads to the in­creased abuse of sex work­ers, and an in­ef­fi­cient al­lo­ca­tion of the state’s re­sources in the fight against crime.

“Sex work­ers are stig­ma­tised in so­ci­ety which im­pacts on their abil­ity to ac­cess ser­vices and en­joy fam­ily life, and un­der­mines in­ter­ven­tions to fight the spread of HIV.”

Sisonke Sex Work­ers’ Move­ment na­tional co­or­di­na­tor Kholi Buthelezi agreed, say­ing it was sur­pris­ing that the com­mis­sion failed to recog­nise sex work­ers’ con­sti­tu­tional right to dig­nity.

“The re­port re­veals how shoddy the con­sul­ta­tion process was and how a se­lected few that were against sex work were con­sulted,” she said.

City Press asked two women on the streets why they don’t want to be viewed as crim­i­nals any more.

Sylvia Dladla (39)

Three weeks ago, Dladla was beaten up, stripped naked and left for dead by a client who picked her up on Johannesburg’s no­to­ri­ous Ox­ford Road. She didn’t re­port what hap­pened to the po­lice, be­cause they would have thrown her – and not her at­tacker – be­hind bars.

“It’s hard for us to re­port such in­ci­dents be­cause the po­lice see us as crim­i­nals,” she says. “If I go and re­port, they will ar­rest me be­cause I am not sup­posed to be work­ing as a sex worker. What I don’t un­der­stand is why we con­tinue be­ing la­belled as crim­i­nals when we don’t kill or rob any­body but do this so that we can feed our chil­dren.”

This was not the first time the Yeoville res­i­dent had been a vic­tim of vi­o­lence while at work.

“It’s so com­mon that we al­ways ex­pect it to hap­pen when we go out to the streets,” she says. The mother of three can­not af­ford to stop, though. “If I stop to­day, seven peo­ple [her four sib­lings and three chil­dren] who de­pend on me will go to bed hun­gry and my chil­dren will have no shel­ter. I don’t like what I do but it helps me to put food on the ta­ble and en­sure that my kids go to school,” she says.

Dladla left Nquthu in KwaZulu-Na­tal two decades ago to find a job in Johannesburg. When she was 15, her par­ents died in a car ac­ci­dent and, as the el­dest child, she had to pro­vide for her sib­lings. She dropped out of school and did other peo­ple’s laun­dry un­til a friend en­cour­aged her to come to Johannesburg to find a job. But months went by with­out her be­ing hired and sex work be­came her only op­tion.

Twenty years later and still with­out op­tions, she con­tin­ues do­ing the dan­ger­ous job she hates.

“I have never worked. I was too young when I came to Johannesburg and all I have done while liv­ing here is sex work,” she says.

“You can be killed by your client and even raped by the po­lice.”

Re­call­ing her at­tack in Illovo three weeks ago, she says she could have died if she had not re­gained con­scious­ness and been rushed to hos­pi­tal.

And it’s not just clients and po­lice that mis­treat sex work­ers, com­mu­nity mem­bers do too. She says she has been sworn at and threat­ened with vi­o­lence a num­ber of times by or­di­nary peo­ple who ac­cuse her of spread­ing HIV.

Jackie Mabunda (40)

Mabunda was only 19 when her boss took ad­van­tage of her. The Zim­bab­wean woman was a do­mes­tic worker when her boss had sex with her, promis­ing her money in re­turn.

“He used to sleep with me say­ing he’ll give any money I de­manded. I was young and naive, I just wanted money.”

But she got tired of sleep­ing with her boss and de­cided to be a full-time sex worker. Raised by a sin­gle mother, she also had to pro­vide for her un­em­ployed mum and two sib­lings. Armed with only a ma­tric, she also strug­gled to find a proper job.

“I thought if I go out and look for money else­where I could help my sib­lings to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion, and ever since I’ve been the bread­win­ner.”

To this day her fam­ily, who she told she was a cleaner in Johannesburg, doesn’t know what the mother of one does for a liv­ing. These days, she says there isn’t much money to be made on the streets. “It’s not like be­fore when we started. Now on a good day I’ll make R500 and on a bad day maybe R100 or noth­ing. It’s hard out there,” she says. “Some clients take ad­van­tage of us. They at­tack, ha­rass and abuse us. Some take their money back af­ter the job is done; there are psy­chopaths out there.” She was raped by a “de­cent” client in 2010. “He re­fused to use pro­tec­tion. He told me I was worth­less and he was go­ing to sleep with me for free; he threat­ened me with a gun. I had no choice but to just de­liver the goods,” she said. Mabunda says the men who abused her were wealthy busi­ness­men who drove lux­ury cars. “You can’t ex­pect some­one of that cal­i­bre to do such things. “I broke my an­kle while I was driv­ing with a client. He at­tacked and pushed me while the car was mov­ing. He had paid me and de­manded his money back af­ter I’d de­liv­ered. I didn’t want to give it back.” The at­tack kept her out of work for four months. She had to re­turn to the streets be­fore she’d re­cov­ered to pro­vide for her fam­ily. “I’ve re­ported at least eight cases [to the po­lice], in­clud­ing rape, but the po­lice don’t care about us. I’ve lost hope in the po­lice.”

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

Sex work­ers say that, be­cause their jobs are crim­i­nalised, re­port­ing to po­lice the abuse they rou­tinely suf­fer at the hands of their clients is of­ten not an op­tion as they, and not their abusers, are likely to end up be­hind bars

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