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By Connect Your Rights!

The majority of sex workers are women. Many of these women experience physical and psychological abuse - including by the police - in the course of their work. We demand that sex worker rights - which include, among other, the right to privacy and the right to life, liberty and security online - be recognised as human rights. We call to decriminalise sex work as a way of ensuring better access to rights.

Read the next following stories and sign the petition that we will hand in to the UN!

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

The deputy minister of police says that sex work must be recognized so it can be professionalized and police brutality against sex workers can be eradicated.

Speaking at the National Sex Work Symposium in Johannesburg yesterday (23 August 2012), Deputy Minister of Police, Makhotso "Maggie" Sotyu, said the sex work sector should be 'handled with dignity' - and that the police ministry should play its part.

In a reference to current South African law, which criminalises both sex workers and their clients, the deputy minister asked why it was that the police arrested sex workers, but ignored their clients. 'Is it because she's a woman?' she asked?

Acknowledging the challenges of crime facing the country and the need to deploy scarce police resources effectively, Sotyu said, 'We have more serious challenges than running after sex workers.'

Sotyu said she was moved by the many complaints of police abuse - which included beatings, pepper spray and rape - that she has received from sex workers during recent meetings with the Sex Worker Education Task Force and the sex worker-led movement, Sisonke.

'You can't let a police officer rape any person, let alone a sex worker,' she told the symposium, adding that where police used unnecessary force these incidents should be treated as criminal acts.

'Freedom in 1994 is freedom for all,' she said. 'You can't be harassed by police officers and say you are free.'

Sotyu called on organisations representing sex workers to provide her with documentary evidence of police abuse so that she could follow up with provincial police commissioners as well as police stations 'because that is where the problem is'.

Concluding her presentation, before taking questions from sex workers and other delegates to the symposium, the deputy minister said, 'I promise you, I commit myself, I will support you and your endeavors.'

Published in SWEAT Press Releases
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
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

By Vuvu Vena, Daily Dispatch

Photo: Masked sex worker rights organisations around East London called for police protection and an end to police abuse on Saturday during International Sex Worker Rights Day.

Marking International Sex Worker Rights Day, members and representatives of sex worker rights organisations across the country marched to police stations calling for an end to the violence experienced by sex workers at the hands of police.

In East London, close to 150 sex workers and representatives from the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sisonke – a national sex workers’ movement – marched to the Fleet Street police station.

The group presented a memorandum of grievances to a police representative. They demanded that police stop:

  • Publicly humiliating sex workers;
  • Targeting and profiling sex workers in a degrading manner;
  • Demanding sexual favours in exchange for not being arrested;
  • Harassing and unlawfully arresting them;
  • Detaining them in inhumane conditions;
  • Beating and raping them while in detention;
  • Refusing HIV-positive detainees access to their treatment; and
  • Searching them and using the condoms they find on them as proof they are breaking the law.

Similar protests took place in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Rustenburg, and Louis Trichardt.

“The criminalisation of sex work forces sex workers to live in fear of police who harass and abuse them with impunity.

“Sex workers are being arrested and their rights are being violated for doing work that supports their families,” the organisations said in a media statement. In the lead up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup Sweat had become vocal in the call for the decriminalisation of sex work.

Sally-Jean Shackleton, director of Sweat, said: “In South Africa sex work is completely criminalised; anything relating to that is criminalised. “What we need to do is address the stigma.”

Shackleton said the organisation supported the decriminalizing of sex work and the formation of protective legislation for sex workers.

Police spokesperson Captain Stephen Marais said they had received the petition and it would be forwarded to the relevant people for attention. Asked how big a problem sex workers were in East London; Marais said: “We don’t have a serious problem with sex workers in East London.”

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

Here are more photos of the Fleet Street Police Station march (East London) taken by Mickey Meji, SWEAT's Networking and Parliamentary Liaison Officer:

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
Tuesday, 06 March 2012 09:59

'Decriminalize sex work'

By Nathan Adams, Eye Witness News

To mark International Sex Worker Rights Day, Cape Town sex workers are marching through the streets of Bellville.

Organised by rights group Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), the crowd of mostly women, is calling for the decriminalisation of sex work.

Armed with placards and whistles, the group of sex workers, says they are harassed by police officers almost daily.

They say the criminalisation of sex work has forced them to live in fear.

They are voicing their concerns, but many sex workers are wearing masks to hide their identities.

One woman says she was stripped and forced into a police van.

The Bellville sex worker says she was kept in holding cells overnight, but never charged.

Her story and the concerns of many other sex workers has been summarised in a memorandum of grievances, which will be handed over to police, at the end of the march.

[This news article was originally sourced from Eye Witness News: Decriminalize sex work]

Published in News
Tuesday, 06 March 2012 09:44

Sex workers accuse police of harassment

By Nathan Adams, Eye Witness News

Some Cape Town sex workers on Saturday said they were continuously harassed by police.

A group of sex workers marched through the streets of Bellville to mark International Sex Worker Rights Day.

The march was organised by Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and the crowd called on government to decriminalise sex work.

One woman said life on the streets was tough.

“Police are harassing us. We are marching today because we want them to stop what they are doing. We want them to realise that we’re also human,” she said.

Another sex worker said police needlessly harass them.

“They hit us, rape us, and ask for sex favours from us,” she said.

[This news article was originally sourced from Eye Witness News: Sex workers accuse police of harassment]

Published in News
Saturday, 03 March 2012 14:37

Stop harassing us! Tackle real crime!

'Stop harassing us! Tackle real crime!'- Sex workers and human rights activists shouted as they marched against the abuse of sex workers by police, in commemoration of International Sex Worker Rights Day (3rd March).

Photos of the Bellville Police Station march (Cape Town):

Photos of the Fleet Street Police Station march (East London), taken by Mickey Meji, SWEAT's Networking and Parliamentary Liaison Officer:

Photos of the Johannesburg Central Police Station march, taken by Hoosain Khan, of Wits University:

Published in News
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