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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

By Jenna Praschma, SWEAT Acting Advocacy Manager

A recent Eyewitness News (EWN) article online, entitled "CT Cops raid 'human trafficking' den," has once again highlighted the misconceptions surrounding sex work and the damage that such inaccurate reporting can cause to related human rights issues.

The raid on a Cape Town brothel last week - the result of a Hawks 'sting' operation - resulted in two arrests, one of whom was reported to be a victim of human trafficking. The woman in question, however, gave no indication to her legal representative that she was trafficked, and is in fact in South Africa on a valid asylum seeker permit.

In addition, if the woman was trafficked, then arrest and detention for four days is no way to rescue someone already in distress.

Stacey-Leigh Manoek of the Women's Legal Centre, who provided legal assistance to the two women, said, “The police officers detained both women in the police cells. If indeed she was trafficked, surely detention should not be regarded as being rescued. This is a clear indication of how the conflation between trafficking and sex work has violated fundamental human rights. It will only result in further victimising of marginalised communities.”

Issues of human trafficking, asylum seekers and other human rights situations are often conflated with sex work. In reality, such issues are only exacerbated by the current legal system in which voluntary adult sex work is criminalised.

It is for this reason that SWEAT calls for the decriminalisation of adult sex work. In a decriminalised system, regulated by laws similar to those governing other professions, brothels would be a safer environment for all involved. Working hours, working conditions, age restrictions, occupational health standards, access to sexual and reproductive health facilities and rights would all be supported by a legal framework and a right to access justice without fear of reprisal or stigma.

Decriminalising sex work would make sex work visible and thus accessible by civil society organisations and state players, safeguarding all involved from the abuses that are occurring currently.

Accurate and sensitive reporting would also go a long way to ensuring that these diverse human rights issues are addressed individually and appropriately.

The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) offers all journalists reporting on sex work a Media Pack covering the legal and social facts surrounding sex work. Please contact 021 448 7875 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

Published in SWEAT Press Releases
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
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 13:14

'Torture bill should protect sex workers'

By Regan Thaw, of Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - The Women's Legal Centre on Tuesday said draft legislation relating to torture should protect sex workers, regardless of the fact that their profession is illegal.

Parliament’s justice portfolio committee heard submissions from civil society groups on the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Bill.

The proposed legislation has not been promulgated, despite being discussed and scrutinised for 10 years.

The centre's Stacey-Leigh Manoek said current laws do not adequately protect sex workers.

“They experience these kinds of abuses because of the nature of their work. It’s hard to enforce the Sexual Offences Act as it stands, so police resort to illegal policing practices.”

According to a report on Human Right Violations by Police against Sex Workers, they are often assaulted, pepper sprayed and sexually assaulted by officers.

They also experience violence during arrest.

Earlier, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) focused much of its submission on defining who the perpetrators of torture are.

SACBC also wants individuals, such as the president and government ministers, to be held responsible as they can instigate torture indirectly.

[This news article was sourced from Eyewitness News: 'Torture bill should protect sex workers'.]

Published in News

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

By Ayanda Mkhwanazi, Health-e

Seven out of every ten sex workers have been abused by police officials. A survey done by the Women’s Legal Centre, shows that sex workers report having been threatened with arrest or forced to sleep with police officials in exchange for their freedom.

“We are being harassed by the police and they are using by-laws on us. Right now thugs are taking advantage of us because of the bad relationship between ourselves and the police”, says one sex worker, describing how the continued criminalisation of sex work is affecting them.

Another sex worker spoke of how she was detained by the police when she was pregnant. Being HIV-positive, she was forced to default on her medication to prevent her from transmitting the infection to her unborn child

“The worst thing for me was being denied my ARV’s when I was on PMTCT (prevention of mother to child HIV transmission programme). I was pregnant and denied this treatment for the whole weekend. I felt it is the worst thing because it was about the child inside of me who could have gotten infected”, she said.

During a sex workers’ symposium in Johannesburg this week, sex workers continued to express their dissatisfaction with the police, saying police brutality is rife within their industry. Amidst the call for sex work to be decriminalised, sex workers are also calling on police officers to stop abusing them. They say they cannot enjoy equal human rights as enshrined in the constitution.

A study by the Women’s Legal Centre confirms that police officials are the primary abusers of sex workers.

“Seven out of ten sex-workers that approached us reported police abuse. And it was around assault, bribery, harassment, sexual assault and verbal assault... bad conditions in the cells just grave and severe human rights violations. And, what is also alarming, is that many of these violations occur around other police officers and they stand by and witness this”, says Stacey-Leigh Manoek of the Women’s Legal Centre.

Manoek says in many instances, in exchange for their freedom, sex workers are often left with the choice of sleeping with the police for free.

“What we found is that almost one in six of the sex workers who approached us had been physically or sexually assaulted. Many sex workers reported that when approached by police officers, they are threatened with arrest or they are told: ‘If you give me sex and money I will release you’. There are sex workers who have reported rapes and are afraid to lay the complaint against the officer because of the intimidation.

One sex worker told us that she was picked up by a police officer, taken to a dark alley and brutally raped. And she said she just begged him to please put on a condom and he asked: ‘You are a prostitute, what do you know about condoms?’, says Manoek.

But the violation of sex workers’ rights doesn’t end with the police. In some instances, they are also denied access to basic health care services. Linda Dumba, a sex worker operating in Limpopo, says the treatment they receive from nursing staff at clinics is appalling.

“I once got to a clinic... I had an STI and I was explaining how I was feeling and she (the nurse) told me: ‘You come all the way from Zimbabwe and now you are giving us problems. You cannot even explain how you are feeling. How am I supposed to help you?’ I was trying to explain in English and I speak Shona. They speak another language. She ended up calling the other nurses. I felt embarrassed that every nurse knows why I am here”, Dumba says.

Meanwhile, the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Task Force’s (SWEAT) Dr Gordon Isaacs says the health of sex workers will continue to be under threat, unless the profession is decriminalised in South Africa.

“In pockets of the provinces, health care providers may be prejudicial. They might not provide the proper health services, for example, shame the sex worker and say she is HIV-positive. They may, for example, discriminate against treatment of a sex worker if they come for the fourth time because of an STI infection. We’ve had reports where the nursing system says they are not prepared to treat you”, Isaacs says.

Isaacs says these are challenges that SWEAT will fight to overcome. He says SWEAT will continue to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work, especially to get sex workers protected against police brutality.

[This news article was sourced from Health-e: Police brutality still very rife – sex workers. And to listen to the podcast click here.]

Published in News

By Leanne Farish, The Big Issue

The call to decriminalise prostitution in South Africa by the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) could lead to a more effective clampdown on human traffickers supplying the local sex trade, advocacy groups argue.

This follows the ANCWL’s mid-April confirmation that they will present an argument for the decriminalisation of prostitution at the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung this December.

Some opposed to the decriminalisation of prostitution have argued that such a move will lead to an increase in human trafficking into the sex trade. But according to several South African women’s rights organisations, this is not the case.

“Decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa will not result in an increase in sex trafficking or child sex work, based on evidence from New Zealand [which decriminalised prostitution in 2003],” says Stacey-Leigh Manoek of the Women’s Legal Centre. Manoek points to research which shows that decriminalisation in New Zealand did not lead to any increase in sex trafficking or under-age sex work.

In fact, decriminalising prostitution could actually help law enforcement to identify and arrest traffickers, according to the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat).

“A 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 might end up being arrested,” says Sweat advocacy officer Ntokozo Yingwana.

“Also, decriminalisation will also bring into effect stronger laws against coerced sex work, trafficking and under-age sex work, all which are not forms of adult consensual sex work.”

[This news article was sourced from The Big Issue: ANCWL’s decriminalisation call may expose human traffickers]

Published in News
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

SWEAT – the sex worker rights and health services organisation – have obtained a copy of wording of unpublicized guidelines provided to police by the National Prosecuting Authority, dating from September 2011. The guidelines consisting of a checklist of ten “aspects” which must be ticked before any sex worker is arrested for soliciting– see attachment below.

They show how deeply embedded the police abuse of the rights of sex workers is, and how impossibly expensive and legally uncertain it would be to attempt to enforce the current law.

Quoting from the guidelines, before making an arrest, police must judge that someone is a “known prostitute”, “has a habit of frequenting certain streets”, has been observed in those “certain streets on numerous occasions”, was wearing clothing which was “indecent”, was seen walking up to men in the streets in order to accost them, or waved down motor vehicles in order to attract attention, and “lifted/lowered/opened his/her clothing in order to expose his/her private parts or breasts”.

Stacey-Leigh Manoek, an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town, said today: “The contents of this document are of great concern to us. In order for police officers to “tick off” every item in the checklist they will have to stalk and harass sex workers. For example, in order for a police officer to ascertain whether a person has a habit of frequenting the streets, the officer would have to wait around for them to appear and then harass them to ascertain the reasons for them being in the street at a particular time. They would have to do this again and again. This form of harassment has been prohibited by the Western Cape High Court.”

“Targeting women with low incomes trying to earn money for their families, police are being told to invade privacy, to make impossible judgements and to devote endless time to surveillance. Of course, there are very few convictions, and instead the police feel that such demeaning rules justify their emotional and physical abuse of sex workers, as evidenced by endless stories received by our organisation. Police resources should be used to watch out for crimes, not short skirts. We have just closed the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Based violence – but sex workers can expect little protection from the police and face daily abuse and indignities. This law is thoroughly discredited, and endangers thousands of women each year. Decriminalisation of sex work will free police officers to tackle real crime like violence against women, and will enable organisations like ourselves to improve the lives of sex workers – it’s a win-win solution”, said Sally-Jean Shackleton of SWEAT.

For more information Sally-Jean Shackleton, Executive Director of SWEAT, is available on 082 330 4113, and Stacey-Leigh Manoek of the Womens Legal Centre is available on 082 075 5571,

[Saturday 17TH December is the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. Leading up to that day, SWEAT and SISONKE (the organisation of and for sex workers in South Africa) are highlighting the physically and emotionally violent impact of the criminalisation of the 250 000 plus sex workers in South Africa, their clients and those who work with them. We call for the decriminalisation of sex work, which is proven to protect sex workers, to promote their rights and improve relationships between them and the police.]

Published in SWEAT Press Releases
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 15:22

Lets talk about SEX (WORK)

Are you a sex worker, and have professional, health and legal questions? Let SWEAT's panel of experts give you sound advice. Just leave your question below as a comment.

Here are some answered questions already asked by fellow sex workers:

Professional questions answered by Mickey Meji, African Sex Worker Alliance, South Africa Coordinator

Q: I just got a new boyfriend, and things are starting to look serious. Should I tell him I am a sex worker?
A: It is entirely up to you but you should be ready for anything that happens after this as he might not be happy to hear such news and could end up leaving you. But in all you do remember that no one has the right to know what you do not want to disclose about yourself, not ever.

Q: I am a transgender female sex worker. How should I handle a client who wants to hit me when they find out that I’m transgender?
A: It is best for us transgendered women and men to study who we take for clients because of our body politics as our clients always feel deceived about what they see behind closed doors. The other option would be to be open about it.

Q: I’ve slept with an MSM (man who has sex with men), and he’s also a sex worker. But now I’ve fallen in love with him. What can I do to attract his attention?
A: My sister go straight to the man and let him know how you feel. He might be interested too, but is not sure if you’ll accept him as you now also know that he has sex with men too. The only way to find out is if you speak to him.


Legal questions answered by Stacey-Leigh Manoek, Women's Legal Centre (WLC) Attorney

Q: I am HIV positive. I told my place of work. I am on medication, but because I defaulted on them I fell ill again. I am better now, and would like to go back to work, as my contract hasn’t expired yet, but my employers are acting shifty. Do I still have the right to go back to work?

A: You have the right to return to work. The Employment Equity Act of 1998 aims to create an environment of equality and non-discrimination in the workplace. It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, pregnancy, HIV status, among other things. This means that your employer cannot dismiss you because of you HIV status. The employer could have started proceedings to enquire into your capacity to work as your contract can terminated for incapacity. However, as you are better now it would be too late to do that.  Should your employer fail to allow you to return to work, you can approach the CCMA to allege unfair dismissal and unfair discrimination.

Q: I was robbed by a client; he took everything that was in my wallet. I sometimes see him when I’m working at clubs. What can I do about it?
A: You can approach the police station in the area where you live or the area where the crime occurred and lay a charge against the client. If the client used force when he removed items from your wallet, then you can lay a charge of robbery. If the client took the items out of your wallet without your consent you can lay a charge of theft. 

Q: I was caught with a client, and the police detained me over night. In the morning when I was being released I asked for my things, but they told me they have nothing of mine. Yet I had left them with my ring, necklace and money. Can I open a case against the police?
A: Yes you can open a case of theft against the police officers. It would also be beneficial if you are able to identify the police officers. When you lay the charge, we would suggest that you approach the Station Commander and ask for his assistance in laying the charge.

Psychosocial and health questions answered by Doctor Gordon Isaacs, SWEAT Psycho-Social Co-ordinator

Q: My boyfriend and I are HIV positive. I am on treatment, he is not. We want to have a baby. Is it possible for us to have it? If so, how?

A: If you are in doubt about falling pregnant, and both you and your partner are positive, it’s in your best interest to speak to a health care practitioner who is familiar with HIV. It might also be useful for your boyfriend to have his CD4 count and viral load done. It has been recommended that partners of women (who are positive), understand their immune status, and if they wish to have a child, speak to a health care practitioner. Remember, the higher the viral load, and the lower the t-cell count is –you have a greater chance of infecting your partner. Therefore, the higher your CD4 count is, together with an undetectable viral load, is a benefit in reducing the risk for an infant to contract HIV, provided that all the protocols are followed for pregnant women, and their partners. This means that BOTH partners should know their immune status.  Your nearest clinic working with HIV concerns will be able to advise you – as there are specific guidelines for pregnant women.

Q: If a condom breaks inside me, how else can I get its pieces out of me, besides ‘douching’?
A: If a condom breaks inside you, and you believe that small pieces ( or even the condom itself) is lodged in your vagina, the best practice is to try and remove it with your fingers ( washed and clean). If you cannot find it (i.e.  pieces of the condom) go to your nearest clinic and ask the nurse/doctor to assist you.

Q: I am HIV positive, and so is my boyfriend. I take my ARVs, but he only takes traditional medicines. Is there anything wrong if we have unprotected sex?
A: It is never advisable for two people who are HIV positive to have unprotected sex, and especially if one is not on ARV medication. Cross infection might occur, and should your partner need to go onto ARV’s, it could affect the medication (ARV’S) that the health care provider might recommend for him –if it might become necessary for him to start with ARV therapy. Also it might affect your immune status as well.   Also if your boyfriend is only on traditional medicines, does he know his CD4 and viral load status?  The lower the CD4 count, and the higher the viral load, means that he can re-infect you and this may have a negative impact on your current ARV program.

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