To bring light to the physical and emotional violent impact of the criminalisation of the 250 000 plus sex workers in South Africa, SISONKE- the national sex workers’ movement- hosted a series of candle lighting vigils across the country to commemorate the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers, on the 17th of December.
The day was first observed in 2003 when a man dubbed the ‘Green River Killer’ was found guilty of murdering at least 71 women, most of them sex workers, in Seattle Washington, in the period 1983 and 1998.
Dr. Annie Sprinkle and Sex Workers Outreach Project USA founder Robyn Few started commemorating the day as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer. Since this time sex workers across the world hold events, vigils, marches and protests to mourn these and other deaths.
These events call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers as well as the need to remove the “stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by custom and prohibitionist laws that have made violence against us acceptable”, writes the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA on their website.
“We are remembering and acknowledging the spirits of those who have passed on in the industry as the result of the violence and stigma directed towards sex workers, and called an end to this abuse”, said Kholi Buthelezi, the SISONKE National Coordinator.
At the Cape Town candle lighting ceremony names of those who have been murdered were read out, and messages written for them. This was followed by the launch of the decriminalisation t-shirt, which reads "This is what a SEX WORKER looks like", aimed at de-stigmatising sex work and breaking the silence surrounding the abuse and murders of sex workers.
Media personality and human rights activist Kgomotso Matsunyane , and the Very Reverend Rowan Smith (the former Dean of the Saint George’s Cathedral) were present.
See the photo-slide from the event below:
To highlight the physical and emotional violent impact of the criminalisation of the 250 000 plus sex workers in South Africa SISONKE- the national sex workers’ movement- will be hosting a series of events across 5 provinces (see events schedule below), leading up to the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers, on the 17th of December (this coming Saturday).
The abuse and murders of sex workers continue to go unnoticed. Some perpetrated by law enforcers themselves. “One night two police picked me up to [the] police station. One of them suggested that if I can have sex with them they will release me, of which I did”, said Pretty*, a Cape Town based female sex worker.
In a recent study conducted by the Women’s Legal Centre, 12% of sex workers in Cape Town reported having been raped by police, 46% threatened by police and 28% forced into sexual favours by police.
Even those cases that have been reported to the police often fall through the cracks of our criminal justice system on the grounds that the victim is a sex worker, and therefore classified as a criminal. “The prosecutor told me that I was wasting his time, and if I pursued this he would arrest me instead, because what I was doing was illegal”, Snowy*, a Hillbrow based transgendered sex worker, recalls her conversation with the prosecutor, following her opening up a case of rape and robbery against a client. The case was later dismissed.
The International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers, first celebrated in 2003, calls attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers as well as the need to remove the “stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by custom and prohibitionist laws that has made violence against us acceptable”, writes the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA on their website.
“And that’s why we call for the decriminalisation of sex work, which is proven to protect sex workers, and promote their rights and improve relationships between them and the police”, added Sally-Jean Shackleton, the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce director.
- For more information on these events you can contact:
- Kholi Buthelezi - Sisonke National Coordinator on (021) 448 7875/ 073 2479 623
- Sally-Jean Shackleton – SWEAT Director on (021) 448 7875/ 082 330 4113
*Not her real name
By Kgomotso Matsunyane
Now let me say upfront that I would be mortified if my nieces or nephews decided to pursue sex work as a profession. But if they did, I would want the law to protect them, not to victimise them.
Sex work, otherwise known as prostitution, happens everywhere in the world, in every country, in every city. The level of social and legal acknowledgment is governed by culture, roles of men and women, and by levels of wealth and poverty. South Africa’s laws on sex work were drafted in 1957. How on earth did our constitution, lauded by many as one of the best in the world, ever let such an injustice come to pass?
Current law vs. the new law The current law makes it against the law to do sex work or to even be associated with sex work, so in effect, it’s a criminal offence to partake in transactional sexual relations; a futile and outdated concept that tries to enforce morality by limiting sex outside the sanctity of marriage.
Full decriminalisation would mean the following; the removal of laws which make sex workers, their clients and others involved in sex work into criminals, while at the same time preventing local councils from making rules which can be used unfairly against sex workers. Further more, new laws would give new protection to sex worker, for example by making clients practice safer sex and brother owners to promote safer sex, and to give sex workers the same labour and occupational health and safety protection that other workers have. The new law would also pass an anti-stigma law, making discrimination on the basis that someone is a sex worker or has been a sex worker, illegal.
Is there a precedent? There is a precedent that we should be inspired by: New Zealand, located there in Australia’s butt crack, by fully embracing decriminalisation, they happen to have the best sex laws in the world. Neither the sex worker nor their clients can be charged with criminal offences. Countries like Sweden try to have a more egalitarian approach by having partial criminalisation by charging the john and not the sex worker, unlike in many countries where the target of the law are the women and men who trade in sex. Decriminalisation of sex work is right for South Africa, because it would have its’ foundations wholly focused around human rights.
At this point, why people get into sex work is much more secondary to the fact that they do, and it speaks to basic, logical economic principles of supply and demand. Sex work exists and in spite of our alleged moral code and ethics, there is a voracious appetite for it that cannot be curbed by legislation. Our police can be better served focusing their energies of legitimate, violent and corporate crimes that plague our country. Sex work is not one of them, whereas human trafficking is. Let’s assume we’re all adults here and that we are fully cognizant and responsible for our actions; our sex laws need to adapt with the needs of our times because like it or not, sex workers and their clients, are here to stay.
Criminalisation does not deter, all it does is make some of the most vulnerable members of our society even more exposed.
Kgomotso Matsunyane is the host of “Late Night with Kgomotso” on SABC2. She is a partner at TOM Pictures, an award winning T.V. & Film Production Company in Jo’burg. You can follow her on twitter @MotsoMatsu.
[This news article was sourced from Women24.com http://www.women24.com/Wellness/WomensHealth/Why-decriminalise-sex-work-20111114]
Kgomotso Matsunyane is the co-founder of T.O.M. Pictures. She is the former editor of The Oprah Magazine and a former SABC 1 commissioning editor for local drama series such as Tsha Tsha and Gaz’lam. She was also a writer for the award winning Yizo Yizo II. Kgomotso currently hosts her own talk show on SABC2, Late Night with Kgomotso.
SWEAT got to ask Kgomotso her thoughts around sex work and decriminalisation:
1. Why do you so strongly feel that sex work should be decriminalised?
I think sex work should be decriminalised because how and what people do to procure sex should not be the state’s business. It’s a private transaction between individuals. You cannot legislate morality. What the state can do is provide a safe environment for these transactions to take place, and of course to tax it appropriately.
2. Some are calling for the legalization of sex work (ie. Swedish Model), which criminalizes the client rather than the sex worker. Why are you specifically for the complete decriminalisation of sex work, instead of legalizing it?
I think the Swedish model is a fantastic and radical concept, but in essence I don’t believe that neither the sex workers nor their clients should have to face prosecution. It is as ridiculous to me to arrest people for selling as it is for buying.
3. What do you say to feminist groups who argue that sex work is a violation of women’s rights, and therefore should not be decriminalised?
Real feminists realise that women have a right to make decisions over their own bodies. It is patronising and insulting to assume that all sex workers have zero agency to make the decisions that they do.
4. What do you say to religious/faith groups who argue sex work is a sin, and therefore should not be decriminalised?
Religious groups should stop trying to force their beliefs down the nation’s throats. If you don’t believe in sex work, then don’t patronise it, but allow others the right to do as they please. It’s a basic human right. Besides, I just hate being told what to do by people whose faith is based on tall tales told in outdated books.
5. Do you see sex work as a threat to marriage and family values?
No I don’t. Marriages break up for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with sex work. Please man, if people are committed to their own religious and family values, they cannot be threatened by sex work.
6. Many are worried that with decriminalisation will come an increase in the spread of STIs and HIV/Aids by sex workers. What are your thoughts around this?
I think the more openly we can have discussions around sex and sex work, the better informed we will be, and inevitably we will therefore make better choices for ourselves as individuals. Our biggest issue in this country is that we’re afraid to embrace our sexuality. We’re taught to be ashamed of our sexual needs. So while we may declare our virtue every Sunday in church, we certainly get it down and dirty on Friday and Saturday. The hypocrisy has to stop.
7. Do you have any message for fellow ‘sistas’ in sex work, fighting for decriminalisation?
Educate yourselves and form networks that allow you to be able to work in safer environments. It’s your business, so treat it as such. Mobilise and lobby the government for change, and don’t depend on others to fight your battles for you. As Martin Luther King once said: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Catch Late Night with Kgomotso on SABC2, every Saturday, at 10pm.