‘I Am Not for Sale’
A look at sex trafficking in South Africa
That was the thought that ran through Chrisna Junius’s mind the day before her escape from a sex-trafficking ring she had been lured into by a friend.
Walking away from an abusive marriage after 15 years, Junius moved in with another partner, who introduced her to the world of swingers. At a swingers’ party, she met a man who was in a trafficking ring. She had no idea. They started talking. When Junius’s relationship didn’t work out (her partner was unfaithful), she had a nervous breakdown. The fact that she’d left her first husband meant she wasn’t very popular with her family, and was separated from her children. When the breakdown came, she was admitted to a clinic. By this time, she’d developed what she thought was a friendship with the man she’d met at the party.
When she was discharged from the clinic, she was picked up by this friend. He drove her straight to his sex-trafficking ring from the clinic. ‘This man took me to Cape Town and controlled me by making me take drugs,’ Junius says. ‘I became addicted. He told me I owed him money and had to pay him back. I told him I would not be a prostitute, because I had three children. He then showed me pictures of my children, my ex-husband, my parents. He had their school’s contact details and everything.’ The trafficking ring threatened to hurt her family – and forced her into prostitution.
‘I was a captive for 13 months, and I was completely controlled by the sex-trafficking ring. I moved around between 17 of their houses. I began to manage these houses, overseeing 10 to 20 girls in each. I had to control them; they each had certain targets per day. Sometimes, to reach a target, each had to see 20 to 30 men in a day. If they didn’t meet targets, I got abused – punished. And because it was a bondage scene, I was abused in every way.’
After being horrifically beaten one night by an international client, Junius hit rock bottom. She managed to escape from the house she was being held in after using a phone she’d found to call for help. A friend working for a non-profit organisation in Cape Town rescued her. Junius is now a sex-trafficking activist.
In a more rural setting, Nombulelo* was 14 years old, living in Port Elizabeth with her family, when her mother gave her to a Nigerian man in exchange for gifts. Because of the povertystricken life they were living, Nombulelo’s mother sold her for a chance at survival – and triggered her daughter’s demise. After two years, Nombulelo was replaced within the trafficking ring, and turned to prostitution and the drug-mule network out of desperation. She has not seen her family since, and still works as a prostitute.
The Global Slavery Index report of 2016 indicates an estimated ‘248 700 people or 0,45% of the total population live in conditions of modern slavery in South Africa’. The report also states that, ‘although the purchasing of sex is criminalised, the sex industry thrives on the street, and in brothels and private residences. South African women, women from neighbouring states, and Thai, Chinese, Russian and Brazilian women have been identified as victims trafficked abroad, predominantly to Europe.’
Human trafficking is a hardhitting reality for many people in South Africa. The National Freedom Network (NFN), a group working against human trafficking, says that ‘South Africa is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking. Human trafficking also occurs within the borders of the country, from one province or city to another. The extent of human trafficking is difficult to assess due to the nature of these offences, and the reluctance of victims/witnesses to come forward.’
Despite this, various initiatives have been put in place to help eradicate the potential for more people to fall into this type of slavery. The NFN has assisted in launching the South African National Human Trafficking Resource Line (SANHTRL) helpline. SANHTRL reported that between January and April 2017, 66% of the incoming calls were from Gauteng. Women were the predominant gender group of potential victims of trafficking during this period, at 87% of the calls. KwaZulu-Natal reported the highest number of rescues nationally, at a total of 14. The total number of calls received between August 2016 and April 2017 is 3 665; of those, 29 victims were rescued. SANHTRL is working with a network of organisations to raise awareness of the helpline so it can reach every corner of our country.
Despite extensive media coverage of the topic, many of us do not understand what human trafficking means in the South African context. Article 4(1) of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act states that ‘any person who delivers, recruits, transports, transfers, harbours, sells, exchanges, leases or receives another person within or across the borders of the Republic, by means of a threat of harm, the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, fraud,
I SMELLED DEATH THAT NIGHT.
deception, the abuse of vulnerability, abduction, kidnapping, the abuse of power, the direct or indirect giving or receiving of payments, or benefits to obtain the consent of a person having control or authority over another person, the direct or indirect giving or receiving of payments, compensation, rewards, benefits or any other advantage aimed at either the person or an immediate family member of that person or any other person in close relationship to that person for the purpose of any form or manner of exploitation.’ It’s a lot to take in – but it’s crucial that every single one of us knows and understands this definition.
When Ayanda’s* parents died, she and her siblings were left in the care of relatives. She got a bursary to study at a university in Johannesburg but there wasn’t enough money for her to live in a res on campus. She was sent to live with an aunt who worked in the city. Everything seemed okay.
Ayanda adjusted and eased into her schoolwork, despite missing home terribly. One night, as she was preparing supper, her aunt came in with a male visitor. Her aunt told her to go to her room. Ayanda did as she was told. The man came into her room and forced himself on her. ‘I was confused and hurt,’ she says. ‘I screamed out to my aunt but she didn’t come.’ When it was over, the man left, leaving Ayanda bruised and crying. It took her a while to leave her room; once she did, she found her aunt casually watching TV. ‘I told her what happened … and she said I had to somehow pay for staying with her – that I could not live there for free.’ This continued for a year. Occasionally, Ayanda would be sent out to various men’s houses. Her aunt received money after each encounter.
One night while her aunt was out, Ayanda escaped through a window that had been left open. She never reported her aunt: she feared being shunned by the rest of the family, especially because her aunt sent money to them. She moved to another province, and has not seen or been in contact with her aunt since.
This year has been a particularly inflammatory one, with several human-trafficking cases reported by the media – from the sex dens in Springs to the twins who were lured towards a human-trafficking syndicate through social media and the Nigerian pastor who got arrested in April this year at the airport in Port Elizabeth. Along with the arrests, there have been several rescues. In June 2016, 16 girls were rescued from a trafficking ring in Kempton Park. This year, it was reported by the Gauteng Department of Social Development that 220 young people had been rescued from a house in Pretoria. Another 72 foreigners were rescued by the Hawks in February from a factory in KwaZulu-Natal. In a media statement by the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation of the South African Police Service, it was reported in 2016 that ‘the recent incidents of human trafficking in the North West, Limpopo and (lately) the Free State, a combined number of not less than 150 people, including women and children (coincidentally all from Malawi), were rescued from the jaws of unscrupulous traffickers.’
Thousands of cases, however, remain undetected. ‘There are many cases of sex trafficking in South Africa that are either not identified or not documented,’ says Marcel van der Watt, a lecturer in police practice at UNISA.
If you suspect someone you know might be trapped in trafficking, Stop Trafficking of People – an organisation whose main focus is to raise awareness in schools, colleges, universities, churches and communities – has been active for the past eight years. According to managing director Carin Nel, these are some questions you should ask:
• What kind of work do they do?
• What are their working hours?
• How are they paid? (Tips/not at all)
• Are they doing what they expected to do
for work when they accepted the job?
• Are they free to leave (or go home) whenever they want?
• Do they owe someone a large debt that they’re trying to pay back?
• Does someone else keep their ID/passport?
• Have they ever been physically harmed or threatened? Junius and Ayanda are some of the lucky few to have escaped the entrapment of sexual slavery. But many other women are not so lucky. ■
WHEN IT WAS OVER, THE MAN LEFT, LEAVING AYANDA BRUISED AND CRYING. IT TOOK HER A WHILE TO LEAVE HER ROOM; ONCE SHE DID, SHE FOUND HER AUNT CASUALLY WATCHING TV
* NAME HAS BEEN CHANGED