Sex workers, service providers and human rights advocates will be marching in 5 cities tomorrow to expose the abuse and injustice sex workers in South Africa experience at the hands of the police and criminal justice system. SWEAT - the sex worker rights organisation - and Sisonke- the national sex workers’ movement and partners organised the march to commemorate International Sex Worker Rights Day, celebrated annually on the 3rd of March.
The day was first celebrated in 2001 when over 25 000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. Since then sex worker groups across the world have celebrated the 3rd of March as International Sex Worker Rights’ Day.
In a 2009-2010 research study conducted by the Women’s Legal Centre, out of 309 Cape Town based sex workers, 217 complained of police abuse, which means approximately 70% of sex workers experienced abuse at the hands of police, and *Sunshine (not her real name) was one of them:
“One night on my way to the shop a police van stopped beside me. They didn’t even ask questions. They forced me into the van, and I knocked my head. I had a big bump- very blue. They took me to Woodstock Police Station. They saw me as a new face on the road, and took me into a cell alone. Three police men were standing in a line, no name tags, no badges, nothing. Everyone had a condom in their hand and they raped me, one after each other”.
“We are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work because the current law forces us to live in fear of police who harass and abuse sex workers with impunity. We are being arrested and our rights are being violated for doing work that supports our families. But should sex work be decriminalised, then we would be able to work hand-in-hand with the police in combating crimes such as human trafficking”, said Kholi Buthelezi, Sisonke National Coordinator.
A prosecutor appearing at the Wynberg Magistrate Court today, to ensure the conviction of a mother of 2 for solicitation, blamed sex work for drugs and for violence against women, saying “deaths are being reported through various acts, also other offences such as rape are caused by crimes like this (soliciting for reward), women like the accused put the society at risk.” The magistrate also believed these myths about sex workers and sentenced the woman to 12 months in jail, suspended for 3 years.
Marchers tomorrow will be demanding that the Police meet with representatives of sex workers by the end of the month and adopt a new practice of dealing with sex work “I think this is a very reasonable request- if the police are interested in fighting real crimes like rape and murder, they should agree to meet with us” said Ms Buthelezi.
[For details of these marches, see the attachment below.]