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Wednesday, 12 September 2012 08:07

Sex workers train police

More than 60 police officers took part in a human rights training session with sex workers and advocacy organisations in Cape Town yesterday.

Police officers from Bellville, Parow and Goodwood police stations took part in the three-hour workshop, together with the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Sisonke - the only national movement of sex workers, Triangle Project, Gender Dynamix and the Womens Legal Centre (WLC).

This training follows a visit by Deputy Minister of Police Makhotso Maggie Sotyu to SWEAT last month where she heard first-hand from sex workers the harassment and abuse they experience in the hands of police.

The objective of this three-hour training was to sensitise police on the vulnerability of transgender people, and to inform members on the legal rights of sex workers. It is the first in a series of trainings working with local police stations where complaints against some of the stations’ officers have been reported by sex workers to SWEAT and WLC. The training was designed to encourage participation and involved much discussion.

In a recent study conducted by the WLC: ‘Stop Harassing Us! Tackle Real Crime! A report on Human Rights Violations By Police Against Sex Workers In South Africa’, 70% of the 308 sex workers interviewed had experienced some form of abuse by police.

Some of the concerns raised by the police officers included drug dealing by pimps, pressure to respond to complaints from residents where sex workers operate, and the frustration of trying to enforce an inapplicable law. The Director of SWEAT, Sally-Jean Shackleton, encouraged members to use the 24-hour toll-free sex worker Help Line (0800 60 60 60) if they felt someone needed assistance.

"The government has left this for so long. It’s just too big for us. It’s like during apartheid. During that time we had to run around arresting everyone without a card [dom pass]. As soon as the government sorts itself out we will then know what to do”, said a female police officer at this training.

Colonel Cloete, an attorney of the Provincial Commissioners Office, reminded the police officers what they can and cannot do when arresting sex workers. “Just treat everyone with dignity, and there will be no problems", Cloete told the police officers.

"Although there are still many issues regarding searching procedures, and gender segregated facilities to protect transgender people from being sexually assaulted by fellow inmates that remain unresolved, we are optimistic about this initiative, and are committed to working with SAPS and other stakeholders to deal with these challenges", said Sibusiso Kheswa of Gender Dynamix.

“In order to address this human rights crisis and the human rights violations that sex workers experience, South Africa should decriminalise the selling and buying of sex and the system should be reformed to bring the treatment of sex workers in line with our constitutional and international obligations to reduce this type of abuse”, said WLC human rights' lawyer Stacey-Leigh Manoek.

Sharon Cox Ludwig of Triangle Project closed the training by urging the police officers to treat every sex worker they come across as a human being. “No matter what your religion is, or what the law says, just remember that this person in front of me is a human being”.

“For us this is a first step towards better relations with the police, and a good opportunity for us to hear what their issues are, and for them to hear what are our concerns. So we can start working together, because at the end the day we are both tasked with protecting human rights”, said Sisonke National Coordinator Kholi Buthelezi.

Published in SWEAT Press Releases

At the National Sex Work Symposium: Best practices in HIV Prevention Care and Treatment for Sex Workers in South Africa, the Women’s Legal Centre (“WLC”), Sisonke and the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (“SWEAT”) released a report which finds that police officers in South Africa are the main violators of sex workers’ human rights.

“Stop Harassing Us! Tackle Real Crime!: A report on Human Rights Violations By Police Against Sex Workers In South Africa” draws on the views and voices of more than 300 sex workers in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Limpopo.

“The human rights abuses of sex workers in South Africa is alarming and demands immediate attention” says Stacey-Leigh Manoek, an attorney at the WLC and author of the report. This research shows that the existing legal framework is unacceptably liable to police discretion and encourages police corruption and abuse.

Sex workers said that when they are arrested by the police they are often assaulted, pepper sprayed, bribed and sexually assaulted. Almost 1 in 6 sex workers who approached WLC experienced physical or sexual assault by the police. A female sex worker from Cape Town said “The coloured police officer grabbed me, and my clothes came off. Then they pepper sprayed me in my mouth and beat me”.

Police abuse of sex workers in South Africa is systemic and widespread. Of the 308 sex workers interviewed for this study, 70 percent experienced some form of abuse at the hands of police. Many reported more than one violation. A sex worker from Johannesburg told us her story, “Then the policemen told me to go outside and stand in a line with the other women. When we got outside, one of the ladies said that we should run away from them. So we all started running. Then the policemen started shooting at us. They shot me twice with rubber bullets in my shoulder. But I kept running. I did not want to stop. Later I went to the clinic to bandage my wounds.”

Another sex worker in Cape Town recalled her sexual assault by the police, “A police officer unzipped his pants and put a condom on. I got a shock. They started speaking to me rudely. They told me that I must give each one of them a blow job (oral sex), which I did. He put me on the floor. The police officer raped me, then the second one, after that the third one did it again. I was crying after the three left without saying anything. Then the first one appeared again… He let me out by the back gate without my property. I was so scared that my family would find out.”

Police officers commit these crimes with impunity. They remove their name tags so that sex workers are unable to identify them and they instil such fear in the sex workers that they are afraid to report these crimes to the authorities. A sex worker in Cape Town said “One day I was standing on one of the corners, the police came and ask what I was doing there and who I am waiting for, then they put me in the van and told me that they are taking me to the police station, but instead they took me back off the street and wanted sexual favours, and both of them had no tame tags.”

138 sex workers reported being arrested, and only 21 appeared in court. Indicating that the pattern of arresting sex workers without the intention to prosecute is still prevalent. Manoek says that this practice “is a clear constitutional human rights violation of the right to defend oneself in court and not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s freedom.” Almost half of those who had been arrested where held beyond the 48 hours maximum period permitted by law and 70 percent said that while they were in detention they had been denied access to food or water.

The report makes recommendations to the South African government to decriminalise sex work. It also calls on Chapter 9 institutions such as the Commission for Gender Equality to investigate the human rights abuses that sex workers experience. It also calls on civil society organisations to support the call for decriminalisation and to meaningfully include sex workers in their work.

SWEAT’s advocacy officer Ntokozo Yingwana says that “in order to address this human rights crisis and the human rights violations that sex workers experience, South Africa should decriminalise the selling and buying of sex and the system should be reformed to bring the treatment of sex workers in line with our constitutional and international obligations to reduce this type of abuse.”

“Sex work should be decriminalised now! The South African Law Reform commission has been sitting on this matter for the past ten years and they keep on postponing the time when they will release their report. This gives us the impression that this matter is of no importance to them. This democracy is failing us”, says Kholi Buthelezi, national coordinator Sisonke- the only sex worker led movement in South Africa.

[This news article was sourced from the Women's Legal Centre website: http://www.wlce.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=151:a-report-on-human-rights-violations-by-police-against-sex-workers-in-south-africa-&catid=55:press-releases&Itemid=83]

Published in Research
Tuesday, 17 April 2012 09:12

Why sex work should be decriminalised

By Ntokozo Yingwana, SWEAT Advocacy Officer

Under the Sexual Offences Act of 1957, amended in 2007 sex work is fully criminalised in South Africa. This means that the sex worker, their client, and anyone who lives off the earnings of a sex worker are considered criminals.

Criminalisation is extremely difficult to enforce (with only 11 clients having been prosecuted for engaging the services of a sex worker since 2007). It has created a harmful environment in which police can and do abuse and harass sex workers with impunity, health care providers stigmatise and discriminate against sex workers, and a range of human rights abuses against sex workers by the general public are legitimised.

Human rights abuses of sex workers in South Africa are alarming and demand immediate attention. Most sex workers are women, and these abuses are crimes of violence against women. The incidence of physical violence, including rape, is higher among sex workers than among the general population.

It is with this disturbing backdrop that SWEAT, the Cape Town-based Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce, welcomes debate on the law regarding sex work in South Africa. Some organisations are proposing Sweden’s partial-criminalisation/partial-decriminalisation as the answer. It may sound fair – criminalising the clients and others, but not criminalising sex workers – however, the evidence shows what logic tells us – that it really is lose-lose law.

The director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor at the American University in Washington, Anne Jordan offers a compelling argument against the Swedish model. In an article, The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A failed experiment in social engineering (Issue Paper 4, April 2012), Jordan states that, “[t]he reports produced by the Swedish government and other researchers reveal that the government’s claims of success are not supported by facts. There is no evidence that fewer men are purchasing sex, that fewer women are selling sex or that fewer people are being trafficked or forced into prostitution.”

Jordan goes on to recommend that, “[g]overnments that are proposing to adopt a law like Sweden’s should consider whether they, too, wish to waste scarce resources and political capital on a law that is unsuccessful and also certain to produce harm.”

Since its inception in Sweden in 1999, partial-criminalisation has forced sex workers to move their trade into much more hidden and potentially dangerous locations, and into accepting risky clients who may turn out to be violent, reports Jordan. Rather, she argues, “they should develop real solutions based on evidence and rights instead of ideology and emotions”.

Partial-criminalisation of sex work is based on the discredited belief that by creating laws that criminalise the buyer of sex, there will be a decrease in the market-demand for sex work, which will ultimately result in a decrease (or total eradication) of sex workers. This is a social engineering exercise that echoes the Immorality Act of the apartheid government, which sought to police the private engagements of consenting adults.

SWEAT encourages our government to engage with the evidence, instead of succumbing to discourse, which undermines our hard-fought Constitution. Our government would do well to note that just last month the Canadian Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that partial-criminalisation laws were indeed responsible for the increase in violence against sex workers in their country, and have subsequently called for the reform of these laws.

Laws that criminalise sex work, in whole or part, remove the sex worker’s own agency. Instead they aim to disempower sex workers, and prevent them from exercising their labour and human rights. The mistake made by those advocating for partial-criminalisation is to assume they know what is best for sex workers, even before bothering to consult with them. They refuse to believe that anyone would voluntarily sell sex to make a living, even when the reality we live in points to just that.

Sisonke - the national sex worker movement- has repeatedly called for the full decriminalisation of sex work. “As sex workers we support decriminalisation as the best and only legal option for South Africa because it will recognise our rights to work, it will enable safer working conditions for us and will greatly reduce the police violence,” says Kholi Buthelezi, the National Sisonke Coordinator.

Partial-criminalisation has been incorrectly touted as the solution to human trafficking by some groups, however, since sex workers will still be treated as criminals, even under partial-criminalisation, they will still be unlikely to assist the police in dealing with crime.

By contrast, decriminalisation will bring in stronger laws to protect individuals against coerced sex work, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors. The key benefit of decriminalisation is a vast improvement in the relationship between police and sex workers, to the point that sex workers become key information sources in attempts to uncover human trafficking. Currently, sex workers are afraid to do so, because they risk arrest. According to Buthelezi, “People tend to forget that sex workers are also community members and many of us are concerned with crime. If sex work is decriminalised, we would be in a better position to assist the police to combat crime”.

South Africa has many important issues to address. Many require additional police resources. To waste taxpayers money compelling the police to enforce an unjust and unworkable law against sex work is plain outlandish. And to promote a discredited model of law reform is misguided. There is a win-win solution, decriminalisation.

[An edited version of this article appeared on the Cape Times, on Thursday 12 April 2012, under the title: 'Decriminalisation of sex work is only way to ensure win-win outcome'.]

Published in Decriminalisation
Thursday, 08 March 2012 11:12

Cop got laid but never paid!

By Zama Khumalo, Daily Sun

Photo: Prostitutes took to the streets to protest against police harassment.

There is an ongoing crisis for prostitutes who are often manipulated into having sex by police to avoid arrests.

That’s one of the stories told by an abused woman on Saturday, which was International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

The ladies of the night marched against police harassment across the country.

Sex worker Ayanda Mbangi (36) told Daily Sun that she was forced to have sex with those who were supposed to protect her.

It was 16 August last year when she was standing at the corner of Mooi and Albert streets in Joburg with other prostitutes when the cops arrived. The others managed to get away but she was left behind to face the cops on her own.

“I couldn’t run because of a hip and ankle injury I sustained in a car accident in 2009. They threatened to arrest me for selling sex in a public area. They then drove around with me and asked how much I charged for a session.

“I told them my asking price was between R25 and R30. I became suspicious when one of them kept asking about my job.

“He told me that he hadn’t been with a woman for three weeks. While pushing up my skirt, he tore my underwear and told me to treat him like a client. When he was done, he kicked me out of the car and told me he wasn’t going to arrest me,” said Ayanda.

Prostitutes march through Mzansi cities

Prostitutes marched on cop shops in big Mzansi cities on Saturday to protest against police harassment.

This was on International Sex Workers Rights Day.

In a memorandum handed over to station commanders, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy taskforce said:

“The police arrest and detain us without charges and without the intention of prosecuting us.”

Wearing masks and waving placards describing their suffering, they called for urgent action on their complaints.

“Our rights are being violated for doing work that supports our families,” they said.

The prostitutes also called on the government to stop treating their work as crime.

“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 Sisonke national co-ordinator Kholi Buthelezi.

Central Joburg Police Station Commander Ronnie Rajin said he was prepared to meet the prostitutes to discuss their complaints against cops.

Provincial police commissioners in the provinces are expected to respond to the charges.

[This news article was originally sourced from the Daily Sun newspaper, on Monday March 5, 2012 (see attachment below for the PDF version of this article)]

Here are more photos of the Johannesburg Central Police Station march, taken by Hoosain Khan, of Wits University:

Published in News
Tuesday, 06 March 2012 10:07

Stop abusing us, sex workers tell cops

By Alexandra Schwappach, IOL News

"Enough is enough. I’m a human being”, “My body, my choice”, and “Change is possible” were some of the messages conveyed by placard-bearing sex workers who marched to the Bellville police station on Saturday.

The march, on International Sex Worker Rights Day, saw about 100 people gather to hand over a memorandum of grievances alleging abuse of sex workers by the police.

The march was one of five simultaneous national events, organised by the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sisonke, the national sex workers movement. Others were in Johannesburg, Rustenburg, Louis Trichardt and East London.

The memorandum calls on the police to stop “targeting and publicly humiliating” sex workers, “harassing”, “beating”, “raping”, and illegally detaining or arresting them.

Also included in the memorandum were allegations police asked for sexual favours in exchange for not arresting sex workers, that sex workers were detained in inhuman conditions, that they were beaten and raped while in detention, and that those who were HIV-positive were denied access to treatment while in detention.

National co-ordinator of Sisonke, Kholi Buthelezi, told marchers at the start of the event that the police escorting them were not there to harm them, but to ensure their safety.

“Sometimes when sex workers see a police officer they get scared or angry,” she said. “We wanted them to know that these police officers were here to protect us.”

Sweat’s Tim Barnett said:

“The memorandum is meant to engage the police and ask them to work with sex workers, instead of hurting or abusing them.”

Nine years ago Barnett was part of a push in New Zealand that eventually went to parliament and saw prostitution decriminalised there. Since then, he said, crime and the number of sex workers on the streets had decreased there.

“For SA, the first step is getting the police to change their behaviour,” he said.

Zulu Zandile, who has been a sex worker for nine years, said they were fighting for recognition that sex work was “just like any other job”.

“Let us make a living to put food on the table, just like everybody else.” She hoped sex workers would be able to work hand in hand with police officers to stop the real crime – human trafficking.

[This news article was originally sourced from IOL News: Stop abusing us, sex workers tell cops]

Published in News