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This year marks 16 years of South Africa’s Constitution and yet sex workers continue to be brutalised, harassed and their citizen rights violated in a conspiracy of silence and exploitation. Years after our hard won democratic freedoms, there is no protection under the law for sex workers who are denied access to basic human rights because of the work they do.

Over 100 sex workers, friends and family members yesterday attended the memorial service of Mary*, a 26 year old Zimbabwean sex worker who was found by a room-mate brutally murdered in a Hillbrow brothel, last Thursday night.

“We have been in touch with the hotel manager and sex workers working at the brothel– but they are nervous to speak to the police for fear of police action against them – after-all they are all criminalised under South African Law”, said Oratile Moseki, SWEAT- Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce- Advocacy Manager.

Moseki fears that Mary’s killer will not be brought to justice because witnesses will not come forward to assist police with the investigation. The criminalisation of sex work is directly linked to harm experienced by sex workers, as it enables an environment of stigma, abuse and violence, and a conspiracy of silence and inaction.

Our legal system- where everyone involved in sex work is criminalised- blocks sex workers from accessing their rights which they are entitled to under the Constitution. These include rights to safety, security and protection by the law.

“South Africa badly needs to repeal laws which criminalise sex work to enable sex workers to exercise their rights”, said Moseki. Sex workers have long awaited legal reform on sex work for 11 years. The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC), which gives legal reform recommendations to the Legislature, produced a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution in 2009, and the release of their final report was expected last year in March after several postponements. The SALRC recently stated that they are unable to say when the report will be released, and currently have no commissioners as Parliament has failed to confirm new appointments.

SWEAT and its partners continue to lobby Parliamentarians to support the decriminalisation of sex work. In December 2011, Sisonke and SWEAT sent a letter to all 490 parliamentarians asking them for their opinions on sex work, and for further engagement. Thus far only 10 replies have been received. We have contacted the Chief Whips demanding that they strongly encourage their Caucus to respond.

Speaking at Mary’s memorial service, Brenda*, a Johannesburg Sisonke Coordinator expressed the movement’s remorse at the loss of a fellow sex worker. “Sisonke is wounded by Mary’s passing. We extend our sincerest condolences to her family. We are shocked and concerned about the violence against sex workers which has become so commonplace, and which we know is because sex work is criminalised”, said Brenda.

Sisonke has offered counselling to sex workers who worked with Mary and are traumatised by the murder. People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) has also offered to assist in the counselling.

“Mary was cool and known by everyone. She was also our family breadwinner; supporting her 5 year old daughter, and our widowed mother”, said Maria*, Mary’s sister. After the memorial service Mary’s body was flown back home to Zimbabwe to be laid to rest by her family.

“Mary was a woman just like you and me – she was a mother, a sister, friend, neighbour, a breadwinner and a daughter”, said Marion Stevens, the coordinator of WISH Associates, a health rights organisation. “Sex workers deserve the freedoms that we fought for. We will not be free until we are all free”, added Stevens. Mary’s murder echoes a string of killings which occurred at a Durban brothel last year; when over a period of 10 months, 4 sex workers were strangled to death. To date nobody has been charged with these murders.

SWEAT and its partners call for the completion of the SALRC’s final report, and the Minister of Justice to take the lead to decriminalise sex work. We also call on the South African Government to adhere to commitments made to international human rights bodies and treaties – the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDRH), the African Charter, and resolutions taken at the United Nations (UN). We ask that our Government make real the spirit of our Constitution.

* Real names have not been used.

This press release is endorsed by the following organisations:

- AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa
- AIDS Legal Network
- Cape Town Rape Crisis Trust
- Centre for Applied Legal Studies
- Centre for Positive Care
- Lawyers Against Abuse
- Legal Resources Centre
- People Opposing Women Abuse
- Sisonke
- Sonke Gender Justice
- Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre
- Women in Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health(WISH) Associates

Published in SWEAT Press Releases

By Lesley Lanir, Digital Journal

Johannesburg - A sex worker from Zimbabwe thought to have been murdered by a client was found strangled to death with an electric cord at the Ambassador brothel in Hillbrow Johannesburg, South Africa, over the weekend. Her eyes had been plucked out with a coat hanger. I contacted Maria Stacey National Outreach and Development Manager SWEAT (Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce) regarding the incident.

This is a shocking incident but abuse and crimes of all types against sex workers are unfortunately common to us. Her family did not know she was a sex worker so her name cannot be revealed. She worked at a well-known Hillbrow brothel called The Ambassador. I spoke to my colleague Kholi Buthelezi, who is the National Coordinator of the Sisonke Sex Workers Movement. She said there is a traditional belief that the image of the killer is imprinted on the eyes of a murder victim, hence the murderer stabbed her eyes to prevent himself from being identified. The police are investigating.

What does SWEAT do?
SWEAT works to address the health and human rights of South African sex workers. Estimated 130, 000 – 500, 000 sex workers in South Africa out of a population of almost 50 million.

What about HIV and AIDS?
19.8% of all new HIV infections in South Africa are sex work related, however, only 5% have access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment care and support according to South Africa’s National AIDS Council (SANAC).

Is sex work a criminal offence in South Africa?
Sex work is criminalised in South Africa and sex workers are subject to stigma and abuse. In recent research conducted in the Eastern Cape for the United Nations Populations Fund UNFPA, sex workers spoke of their experiences at the hands of police; contrary to what many believe, most sex workers are not forced to do the work, and experience less abuse from clients and pimps than from the police. As one sex worker said, ”I have never been abused except by the police.”

How does SWEAT give the sex workers support?
One of the things we do is try to get the women’s stories out there to try to make people understand and see what is happening to young women. So we teach online media through workshops. Sex workers are taught how to make short digital stories about their lives. Topics range from police abuse, to entrapment, to rape, to being a refugee, to male rape, to HIV and relationships.

Was it easy to persuade the sex workers to make these video clips?
Sex workers want other people to know that they are human beings like any other mothers, daughters, girlfriends, wives, members of communities, members of church choirs and so on.

In order to emphasise the dreadful plight of these sex workers- what other examples of abuse can you tell us?
There is another incident that we are involved in at the moment. A sex worker in Booysens, Johannesburg killed her Nigerian pimp. She had been subjected to severe and prolonged abuse by him. He beat her daily, controlled her movements, and took most of the money she earned, leaving her with R10 ($1,50) per day. While she was in hospital as a result of her beating, she resolved to go back and kill him as she believed there was no other way of ending the abuse. After killing him, she ran away to Durban, but later handed herself into the police. She has been transferred back to Johannesburg to await trial. Sisonke will be supporting her and organising legal support.

[This news article was sourced from the Digital Journal: Sex worker strangled to death, eyes poked out]

Published in News
Tuesday, 20 December 2011 07:13

Snowy's story

A Hillbrow transgender sex worker talks of family, poverty, religion and sex work. Watch the digital story below.

[This is an Eyewitness News production: http://ewn.co.za/MultimediaVideo.aspx?filename=111214snowyewn]

Published in News