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Press release from the Scarlet Alliance (adapted)

Experts from a dozen countries, meeting in Sydney last week to learn of the gains since decriminalisation of sex work in NSW in 1995, were dismayed at the massive threat to the world-leading law.

Open Society Foundations, Scarlet Alliance and Sex Worker Outreach Project attracted nearly 50 sex workers, community leaders, human rights activists, advocates and politicians from Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and Europe in a four day event planned to take the best of NSWs model to the world.

The meeting collectively expressed its shock that the NSW government would think of removing decriminalisation of sex work through a sex industry law review process. The delegates were unanimous in their call to NSW Government to maintain its world leading and highly successful decriminalisation of sex work approach.

The delegates spoke of the abuses against sex workers in their home countries, much of it at the hands of the police.

“Sex workers have been saying for years: 'Decriminalisation is the best form of regulation for sex workers'.Decriminalisation has delivered successful health outcomes and removed corruption from the sex industry in NSW. But the Liberal government are proposing a return to the bad old days,“ Janelle Fawkes CEO of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, said. “Delegates from eleven countries have now come to Sydney to learn about how they can decriminalise sex work in their countries.”

Executive Director of SWOP NSW, Kylie Tattersall apologised to the international guests, “It is a great shame that delegates have travelled from 11 countries hoping to learn from the great gains of decriminalisation in the NSW sex industry, and to have to tell them the government are talking about taking decriminalisation away. It has been disappointing to campaigners who had looked to NSW as a hope for sex work in their own countries.”

“In Canada we are in court fighting for decriminalisation and we have come to Sydney to learn from the NSW experience.” said the Canadian sex worker delegates.

Currently the only jurisdictions with decriminalised sex work are NZ and NSW. Both have been praised in relation to their sex work legislation internationally, including in the recent UN report into Sex work, HIV and the Law.

Moving away from punitive laws that criminalise sex work has been a characteristic of sex work law reform in Commonwealth Countries in the last 40 years. All states in Australia have considered decriminalisation, with ACT and Tasmania adopting large swathes of the approach. South Australia is also looking closely at such laws.

Decriminalisation means the removal of criminal laws, including police regulation of sex work. Sex work is then regulated like any other business through local councils, planning laws, OH&S guidelines, Workcover NSW and the ATO. Sex workers can access police in the event of a crime without fear of arrest or harassment. “It was great to see how the police can work with sex workers as opposed to being perpetrators of abuse, as we have seen in South Africa.” Stacey-Leigh Manoek, Women’s Legal Centre, South Africa.

“Our Commonwealth countries adopted colonial laws, and sex workers in Commonwealth countries are united in trying to overturn them. We have achieved that to a degree in NSW and NZ. These Commonwealth jurisdictions are leading the world with some of the best law reform.” Catherine Healy from New Zealand Prostitutes Collective said. “Decriminalisation is a living example of the solution not the problem” agreed Anna Pickering, NZPC.

Support also came from the country where most of the Commonwealth laws originated: Niki Adams a spokesperson from the English Collective of Prostitutes said “As one of the longest standing sex worker organisations campaigning on decriminalisation since 1975 we call on the NSW government to maintain decriminalisation.”

"The meeting is taking place a month after the joint meeting of Commonwealth Ministers of Foreign Affairs adopted a recommendation that calls on heads of governments to undertake steps to repeal all discriminatory laws that hamper effective HIV response. Repeal of discriminatorily laws is the best way to fight the HIV epidemic." stated Olga Szubert from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

“As Scotland prepares itself to host the Commonwealth Games 2014, we urge members of Scottish Parliament to consider the benefits and protections associated with decriminalisation.” Luca Stevenson, founder of Sex Worker Open University said. “Legislative frameworks, such as the Swedish model which criminalise our clients, fail to protect us.”

Other countries spoke of the human rights and public health issues they experience as a result of criminalization of sex work. What they had in common was they were all fighting for decriminalisation and had looked to NSW and New Zealand as beacons of hope.

"NSW is an example to the World" stated Duduzile Dlamini, a sex worker activist from the Sisonke Movement. "We came to NSW to experience decriminalisation, something we are calling for in our country."

"In India the sex worker community is strengthened, empowered and collectivised to access our human rights, but we are not able to stop the raids and violations by police or government.” Minakshi Kamble from VAMP Sangli, India said. “We hope India will adopt this model and protect our human rights."

“Decriminalisation is a win-win situation for everybody" Maria Stacey from SWEAT, South Africa urged the conference. “It has the best possible outcomes for all parties, including sex workers, the broader community, and government.”

Australian sex workers will continue to campaign to maintain decriminalisation in New South Wales, and have similar laws introduced across the country.

“Decriminalisation means I can own my own home” Cameron Cox, a NSW sex worker said. “Decriminalisation allows me to feel a part of society.”

"South Australian sex workers have long been envious of decriminalisation, and are and are working towards gaining such laws in our state.” Tarkwin Coles, from Sex Workers Action SWAGGERR in Adelaide concluded. “We are shocked that NSW would consider abandoning human rights in favour of a legislative system with no benefits".

[This press release was received from the Scarlet Alliance- the Australian Sex Workers Association: Sydney: International Conference Delegates Urge NSW to Maintain Decriminalisation of Sex Work ]

Published in Decriminalisation

JOHANNESBURG, 23 August 2012—Last night saw the presentation of the South African National AIDS Council’s (SANAC)’s National Sex Worker Sector Plan at a cocktail event held in Johannesburg.

The sex worker plan is the first plan to provide a coordinated and multi-sectoral response to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for sex workers in South Africa with sex workers at its centre.

A team led by the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) developed the plan over many months of consultation with a range of stakeholders, including sex workers themselves – heeding the call for ‘nothing about us without us’.

The sex worker sector plan is a clear articulation of a sexual and reproductive health package where a sex worker could receive a range of SRH services. This includes the management of sexually transmitted infections, post-exposure prophylaxis for rape and sexual assault, HPV screening, contraception and termination of pregnancy services.

Says Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in South Africa, ‘This is a milestone which we must appreciate, but we have to work harder and do more. In countries that have invested in programmes which target key populations a lot has been achieved. This is an opportunity to hold accountable a number of stakeholders. Let’s look at this as a moment in time and look to opportunities’.

Added Dr Fareed Abdullah, CEO of SANAC, ‘Other countries which have brought national sex worker programmes to scale have shown a significant reduction in HIV prevalence among this key population’.

The presentation of the plan comes at the close of the first day of a two-day national sex workers symposium to explore best practices in the HIV response for sex workers and how to learn from these when building a national programme for sex workers.

The symposium is taking the discussion beyond the rhetoric and controversy and focusing on the evidence base on sex work and health, with a focus on HIV. It is estimated that HIV prevalence among sex workers is between 44 and 69 per cent, while it has stabilized at 17% in the general population. In 2010, one in five new infections of HIV were related to sex work.

The second day of the symposium will see the Deputy Minister of Police, the Honourable Maggie Makhotso Sotyu will speak about the role of the South African Police Services (SAPS) in reducing stigma among sex workers.

Published in SWEAT Press Releases
Thursday, 19 April 2012 11:29

The Black Durban girl

My name is Monica*. I’m 32 years. I started to sell my body at the age of 20 in Durban. It was very hard then because the police were racist, and only arrested Black sex workers on the street, and not Indian girls. They would also beat us up when they arrested us.

There was one police officer who did not arrest me. Instead he asked for free sex. I just gave him because I wanted to go home. He left the other girls inside. They had to first pay a fine of R50, before being let out.

One day I refused to give him sex, and he said to me if I don’t want to have sex with him he will never take me out again. So I decided to give him, because I just did not want to be in jail. He tell his other police officer friend and his friend also started doing the same thing to me. At that time I did not know my rights- I was blank and blind.

When I come to Cape Town I met an organization called SWEAT- Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce- that educated me about my rights and health issues. Now I’m strong and I'm willing to educate other sex workers that still don’t know their rights.

*Not my real name

Published in Voices Of Sex Workers
Friday, 29 June 2012 13:43

Sex workers call for tolerance

By Malungelo Booi, of Eyewitness News

The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) on Wednesday urged communities to accept and understand that sex workers also have rights as citizens.

A sex worker was stabbed to death while another was injured during an attack in Wetton road in Wynberg.

A man dressed in jeans and a t-shirt attacked the two men dressed in women’s clothing over the weekend.

Police said one of them was stabbed four times.

The 36-yeat-old victims are said to be popular in the Wynberg area.

A seminar discussing challenges faced by sex-workers was held on Wednesday.

Sweat’s Advocacy Manager Oratile Moseki said, “For us it’s about time that people start to engage. We’re not necessarily saying that people should agree. Our struggle is not about whether people agree with sex workers or not, it’s about accepting that just because you don’t like sex workers doesn’t mean then that you should not grant them their citizen rights – which everybody has regardless of who you are.”

In March, the ANC Women's League called for the legalisation of prostitution.

[This news article was sourced from Eyewitness News:Sex workers call for tolerance]

Published in News
Friday, 29 June 2012 13:18

SA sex workers plea for equality

By Sibongakonke Mama, of IOL News

Sex workers say there will be major benefits if the industry is decriminalised and that they would be entitled to the same rights as those in other areas of employment.

In addition, they say relations with the police would improve and that they would be more likely to report abuse. SA also needs to accept, they say, that prostitution is a reality that isn’t going to disappear.

Duduzile Dlamini, 35, who has been a sex worker for almost 10 years, said decriminalisation would help rid the country of human trafficking.

“It’s not going anywhere. Decriminalisation will assist in improving the industry. We know and see a lot but can never report it. It will allow us to report underage sex workers and trafficking without fear of arrest,” said Dlamini.

Lloyd Rugara, a 32-year-old gay sex worker who was held hostage in an upmarket suburb in the city for six months, said he wanted his work to be recognised as a job like any other to protect sex workers from similar ordeals.

“They threatened to kill me if I didn’t take the drugs. I was forced to have sex with all those men, I don’t even remember how many, while the man who hired me watched on a hidden camera,” said Rugara.

Dlamini said decriminalisation would also ensure that sex workers were afforded human rights which, she says, have been violated.

In addition, those working in brothels would be able to go to the CCMA should they be unfairly dismissed and would also be entitled to maternity leave and overtime, Dlamini said.

Oratile Moseki, advocacy manager for the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), said decriminalisation was the only way to go.

“It’s not the magic pill that will solve everything. But other states and countries, like New South Wales and New Zealand, have shown that decriminalisation is the only system that improves relations between sex workers and police.

“Health outcomes in general, under decriminalisation, are better. It motivates brothel owners to hold high health standards and ensure that sex workers practice safe sex without any inhibitions,” said Moseki.

[This news article was sourced from IOL News: SA sex workers plea for equality]

Published in News
Tuesday, 19 June 2012 15:19

Searching for common ground

By Janet Smith, The Star

Sex workers have a champion in ANC Women’s League president Angie Motshekga. But that doesn’t mean decriminalising their activities will be on the table at the party’s national conference in December.

Reports have suggested the league would make a strong case for tax-paying prostitutes at Mangaung, but Motshekga says this is not necessarily so.

Instead, decriminalising sex work will stay on its radar, but cannot be taken forward until everyone agrees – and the league is “not there yet”.

At the moment, says Motshekga, they would “not be able to fight successfully for it”, even though it’ll be up for discussion at the party’s policy conference at Gallagher Convention Centre at the end of the month.

The issue of sex work popped up, quite surprisingly, in the league’s gender policy discussion document released last month, which was prepared for Gallagher.

Proposals taken up at that gathering are expected to be confirmed at Mangaung in December, so it’s serious business.

But Motshekga emphasises that prostitutes weren’t given more than “two paragraphs”.

“It’s not something we would commonly discuss, but it was strengthened by us showing an interest because of concerns raised around women and health. Our understanding was deepened when Sweat (the Cape Town-based Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce) said, ‘We see you have taken an interest’, and the women’s league said: ‘We do, but we do not have the depth.’ They gave us that depth.”

The SA Law Reform Commission has been investigating what to do with prostitution for an astonishingly long time, but there have only ever been three choices. Sex work can stay illegal as it is now, or it can be regulated or decriminalised. The league doesn’t pitch one way or the other, but says it’s looking to “embrace the dignity of women”.

“What I expect at the policy conference is a huge reaction from the men and women from the ANC,” says Motshekga.

“But so far we know that even the women have been taken aback – our own women. Many of them are not ready, because they say they are not sure of the implications.

“They want to be assured that we would not be creating another form of decadence. Those who don’t want this would argue that we supported termination of pregnancy, and now it’s creating problems.

“There are no parallel support programmes, so the women in the league are using this to say: ‘Yes we’ll take it up, but we do not think it will win.’”

It may sound as if the president of the league is taking the route of least resistance. But Motshekga – who survived President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle last week as the minister of basic education – sounds buoyant.

She explains the democratic processes of the league and laughs lightly as she imagines ANC “senior officials being worried and asking: ‘Where does this come from, and why are you raising it?’”

Prostitution has been illegal in SA for more than 50 years. But, ultimately, “there hasn’t been enough time to canvass adequately for (decriminalisation)… there’s not enough groundwork to say what is the alternative”, Motshekga says.

“We might say, ‘Yes we agree with you on principle’, but there are those who feel worried. Would we not be encouraging young girls to become interested in sex work?”

The issue of decriminalising prostitution has shifted the league a little more into the spotlight – a place it hasn’t occupied for years, possibly since the rape trial of President Jacob Zuma six years ago. He was acquitted.

And even if its motives were, perhaps, misunderstood on that one, now is a crunch moment for the league, which has been criticised for seemingly refusing to take the party to task on difficult issues. It’s just been too quiet for too long.

Motshekga agrees. She feels the time is now ripe to step up. Even she is growing weary of the women’s voice being hushed within the party. And after the league’s national executive committee meeting in Boksburg last month, she spoke about “the elephant of patriarchy” being “all over”.

She told journalists after that meeting: “As women, especially women in the ANC, which is very powerful and can shape the thinking of government, we need to push boundaries to ensure women’s issues are thought about at every level.”

The organisation itself, says Motshekga, needs to be pushed.

“We have been having capacity problems, and we need to sort that out to be able to go and report what has happened immediately after things happen. We inherited a very weak structure for what we wanted to do. We wanted to build solid structures in every ward so that we would be able to take up women’s battles at grassroots level, so we have now been spending lots of time going to provinces, assessing, building proper branches which are functional to do that essential below-the-radar work.”

And it is that below-the-radar work that is most critical. It was all very well, says Motshekga, to see members in their women’s league uniforms at The Spear protest outside the Goodman Gallery, but that’s “not really the point”.

The gender policy document captures the degree of trouble for SA, hardened by a fresh report on women in the world that shows that we are the fourth-worst place for women to live.

Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and France are the top five in a perceptions poll of 370 gender specialists conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. At the other end were India, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Mexico.

It makes sense, then, that the league’s document is not at all happy about how little progress has been made here towards the gender equality envisaged in 1994. The league’s constituency is deeply unhappy.

At least 28 percent of women are unemployed and women earn less, while a mere 10 percent of CEOs and board chairs are women, with less than 20 percent in executive management.

The league wants government job creation to aim at least at a 50/50 split. It wants women to get 50 percent of contracts from the state and for this, it insists upon proper training – even an institute that will give women the edge they so desperately need.

From Motshekga’s point of view, this is all very well, but it’s not only about the law. Women struggle even at home, which is why she’s so insistent on breaking down the patriarchy that saw us nudged into such a uncomfortable position on that latest poll.

“It is a very tedious exercise to get the branches going and to get everyone in those branches to buy in, but we’re finding it does pay dividends and some have been successful. If there’s a case of rape, our women will be there. If a mother has passed away and her family have been struggling alone for three months, we expect our branches to be there.

“Especially in Mpumalanga, we’re finding that women within wards are taking up those kinds of daily battles, whereas in North West, we have had setbacks because we just didn’t have branches which could take up any campaign reports. “The information we were receiving was not very truthful, and there was a huge fallout with leadership in the provinces, so that kind of thing means it takes a lot to re-establish a structure.”

The policy conference has helped the league to focus.

“We know we must keep clear on broad issues about policy, advocacy and governance, but sometimes our relationships with other organisations have been a bit ad hoc because of capacity. It actually helps us to work with other organisations because then we do not have to invest lots of resources. Campaigns can be led by others and then we can do our part.

But Motshekga is worried that the league is not attracting highly skilled women. That, she says, has got to change.

Perceptions have got to be “fixed up” so that professionals – “lawyers, economists, such like” – are not put off by a women’s agenda that seems too closely tied to the mother party. “We know that the economic empowerment of women is just not getting off the ground. The skills revolution is not happening. And we could also see how much more powerful women could be when the skilled stood up for them, like it was around the Traditional Courts Bill.

“We needed those independent thinkers and women in law who said: ‘Please wake up, there’s a problem here.’

“We should be able to work above our political divides to really raise alarm bells. It’s not about party politics. It’s about women. And we know that because we’re in the ANC, in the majority in government, we can push for something to be taken to cabinet and be urgently prioritised. That’s our advantage.”

[This news article was sourced from IOL News, Searching for common ground.]

Published in News
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

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
Thursday, 05 April 2012 12:44

COSATU and the CGE dialogue on sex work

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) together with COSATU convened a consultative dialogue on sex work legislative reform. The CGE and COSATU are mindful of the current legislative reform process being driven by the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC), and sought to engage with stakeholders in the sector to inform the development of their institution’s own policy responses to sex work.

Accordingly, representatives from a range of institutions researching and championing the rights of sex workers and addressing violations of their human rights, such as Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT), and representatives from Sisonke Sex Worker Movement itself, were invited to advise the CGE and COSATU on their responses to proposed legislative reform and arguments in favour of full decriminalization of sex work.

Participants noted firstly with concern the delays in the finalizing of sex work legislative reform, which has been before the SALRC since the release of its issue paper in this regard in 2002, and discussion paper in 2009. The SALRC is in the process of finalizing its report for consideration by the Commission, and thereafter for submission to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development for his consideration. Participants expressed concern at the fact that the SALRC is in fact still waiting on the Presidency to appoint new Commissioners to its structure, and therefore is unable to set any timeframes for the above process.

The CGE and COSATU were advised in no uncertain terms that the current regime, namely the full criminalization of sex work, namely criminalizing the buying and selling of sex-work, and all related activities, such as pimping and the running of brothels, has failed society in general, and sex workers in particular. The criminalization of sex work is difficult to implement and enforce, and has not resulted in the reduction of the levels of sex work, or violence against sex workers.

Speakers noted that in contrast, the criminalization of sex work harms sex workers and denies them access to the rights contained in our Constitution. Sex workers are subjected to numerous human rights violations, predominantly harassment and abuse at the hands of police officers, and are not able to access and exercise legal or labour rights, or social protections. As a result, sex workers employed by brothels are subject to numerous unfair and discriminatory practices and abuse, ranging from fining, bonding and coercion, and are denied access to legal remedies to challenge these, or to mobilizing and the forming of unions to support this process.

Participants called for the full decriminalization of sex work, stating that this is the only appropriate legislative response that is based on the human rights of sex workers, and will permit adult sex workers to engage consensually with their adult clients, without fear of police violence. By removing state control and policing of the sex work industry, this then shifts the police’s role to that of preventing harm to sex workers, and investigating and taking action against criminal instances of trafficking, coercion and child sexual abuse, which are fundamentally distinct from sex work. They stated clearly that sex workers are not victims needing rescue, but survivors calling for recognition and protection of their rights.

Persuasive research was presented on the model adopted by New Zealand, the first country to adopt the decriminalization of sex work, with supporting legislation in place to protect the human and labour rights of sex workers. New Zealand put in place a five year review mechanism to assess the impact of this legislation, and findings indicate clearly that decriminalization has not resulted in an increase in sex work, but rather that the attainment of the rights of sex workers has improved, and awareness on occupational and health rights increased.

Dialogue participants called upon the CGE and COSATU to call for the repeal of criminal law prohibiting adult consensual sex, and the promulgation of legislation to promote the rights of sex workers, and support the mobilizing and organizing of sex workers to champion their rights. The CGE in particular was requested to make use of its statutory powers to investigate systematic police violence against sex workers, and the use of state resources to harass and abuse sex workers.

COSATU noted that its National Gender Conference concluded on 29 March 2012 called for the full decriminalization of sex work. Gender structures within COSATU are now campaigning with affiliates and provincial structures to support the policy proposal in this regard to be tabled at COSATU’s 2012 Congress. The CGE confirmed that it would be finalizing its formal position on the decriminalization of sex work, drawing on the inputs from the roundtable and responding to the experience and human rights of sex workers, whereafter it would be engaging with relevant stakeholders to take this forward.

The CGE also noted that it would immediately develop legal opinion on existing legislative provisions in our criminal law in relation to sex work that appear to be in conflict with the Constitution, to take these up with the State. The CGE invited SWEAT to immediately and formally lodge a complaint in relation to police abuse of sex workers, for CGE investigation and action.

[This press release from the Commission for Gender Equality, on the 4th of April 2012. The original title read: 'Consultative dialogue on sex work']

Published in Decriminalisation
Thursday, 29 March 2012 14:32

Corrupt police abuse, exploit sex workers

By Zaheer Cassim, Corruption Watch

Sex workers are made extremely vulnerable by corruption in the police force, needing protection from officers who demand sex or money from them. This emerged from the 2012 Cosatu Gender Conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday 27 March, where the decriminalization of sex work was discussed.

Sally-Jean Shackleton, director of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) said police are the often worst offenders when it comes to the harassment of sex workers in Johannesburg.

“The women have to pay a R900 bribe to be released or not to taken into custody,” she said. Police also ask the women for sex in return for not being arrested. If the women refuse these demands, they can be thrown into jail for days without access to anti-retroviral treatment or food.

A similar situation in the Western Cape is made worse by police also deterring sex workers from using protection.

“We are finding in Cape Town that sex workers are being searched for condoms, which are then used as evidence against them,” said Shackleton.

A study by the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) revealed that more than a third of sex workers in the Western Cape don’t carry condoms on them because they fear police harassment and abuse. The study, conducted between September 2009 and June 2011, found that more than 70% of sex workers had experienced some form of abuse from police officers.

WLC attorney Stacey-Leigh Manoek said her organisation is working with Sweat to compile a list of officers and stations most culpable of this kind of abuse. The WLC has also filed five civil damages against the minister of police for unlawful arrests and detention amounting to R500 000.

But the police have said that unless sex workers are willing to come forward and lay a formal complaint themselves, nothing will be done.

Sweat and the WLC hope this year’s conference will create awareness of the problem and mobilise South African women behind the push to decriminalise sex work. Shackleton is also working with union group Sisonke to create a unit in the union specifically for sex workers and the protection of their rights.

[This news article was sourced from Corruption Watch: Corrupt police abuse, exploit sex workers]

Published in News
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