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Wednesday, 12 September 2012 08:07

Sex workers train police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in SWEAT Press Releases
Friday, 07 September 2012 14:02

South Africa: When sex work is work



By Guest Writer of Great Indaba.com

Linda, who asked that her last name not be used, is a provincial media co-ordinator of Sisonke, the South African sex worker movement. She was one of a long list of speakers at South Africa's first ever, national symposium on sex work held in Johannesburg recently, which brought together officials from the South African National Aids Council, the Department of Health, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and non-government organizations, including the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sisonke.

As Linda told her story, conference delegates sat in rapt silence. Occasional murmurs of empathy rippled through the room as she explained that although she had hoped to finish school and go to university, her family circumstances had prevented it.

"My father was a peasant farmer, he had two wives and we were 15 children," she said of growing up in Zimbabwe. "He did not have enough money to send all of us to school. My mother was the second wife, and so my brothers from the first wife were the ones to go to school. I could only go up to Grade 9."

At the age of 19, Linda married. Her husband was a medic in the Zimbabwean army. Six years after their marriage he was sent on a peacekeeping mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo where he sustained severe head injuries in a plane crash, leading to his death.

"I was only 25," said Linda. "I had two sons. We had a fully equipped seven-room house in the city, but my husband's family wanted this for themselves. They said I should marry my husband's brother, because this was according to their culture and tradition."

Linda was adamant that she was not married "to the whole family". The only solution she saw was to leave Zimbabwe for South Africa where she could earn a living and avoid the pressure from her in-laws.

But first, she had to get a passport. "When my husband was still alive he used to say, 'I don't want you to work for the family. I will work for you and the kids. And I don't want you to have a travel document, you'll be here with the family and I will always come back to you.'

"I had to go against his wishes to get this document," said Linda. "So every time I look at it, I feel like I have broken his wish, as if I was betraying him, but there was nothing I could do because I wanted to support the family."

The following year, Linda applied for a passport. "At that time, things were very difficult in our country. You needed a lot of money to get a travel document - and it took two years. I applied for it in 2006 and I got it in 2008."

"When I came to South Africa, I was dropped in Musina," said Linda. "I didn't know anyone. I was wondering how I would find someone who wants a domestic worker. I was sitting with my bag next to me, then this truck driver approached me."

In a country where more than five million people are living with HIV, and sex workers account for one in five new HIV infections, public health workers say it is imperative that South Africans engage in a frank and honest conversation about sex work. Surveys in South Africa's major cities show an HIV prevalence rate of between 44 and 69 percent among sex workers, whereas in the general population the prevalence is around 17 percent.

However, because South Africa criminalises sex work, bringing with it a general stigma, there is little incentive for sex workers to seek out health services at government clinics where they are treated with disdain or worse.

The World Health Organisation identifies three key risks for those involved in sex work:

  • Forced sex increases the risk of transmission of HIV due to physical trauma.
  • The threat of violence limits the ability of people to negotiate safer sex.
  • Disclosure of HIV test results or the disclosure of a person's HIV status may also entail an increased risk of violence.

Sex workers generally are well-educated when it comes to safer sex and HIV prevention, but their outlaw status puts them in a weak position if they have to argue with clients to persuade them to use condoms. Furthermore, police frequently harass outdoor sex workers - and if women are found to be carrying condoms, the police use this as evidence that they are sex workers.

Under current South African law both sex workers and their clients are guilty of an offence. However, a report by the South African Women's Legal Centre published in August 2012 that documents the experiences of more than 300 sex workers found that 70 percent experienced some form of abuse at the hands of the police.

This was acknowledged by the deputy minister of police, Makhotso "Maggie" Sotyu, who, in her address to the National Sex Work Symposium said she was moved by the many complaints of police abuse that she had received in a recent meeting with sex workers.

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

While living outside the law makes sex workers more vulnerable to abuse from police, clients and pimps, it also places a burden on the country's stretched police services. Sex work activists argue that policing the laws that criminalise sex work absorbs significant resources that, given South Africa's high crime levels, could better be deployed elsewhere.

According to the executive director of Sweat, Sally-Jean Shackleton, "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".

In a tacit acknowledgement of the futility of criminalising sex work, the deputy minister said that sex work was a reality that was "here to stay" and that the South African police had more "serious challenges than running around after sex workers".

The first country in the world that has recognised sex work as a reality to be regulated like all other work is New Zealand, which decriminalised sex work in 2003. In Australia, the state of New South Wales has a similar approach.

In New Zealand, decriminalisation - as distinct from legalisation - resulted in the following changes:

  • It was no longer an offence to procure sex, run a brothel, solicit, or to live off the earnings of sex work.
  • Registration of sex workers ceased; it was replaced by licensing of people in a position of control over sex workers in a business of three or more workers.
  • A ban on people with drug or prostitution convictions working in brothels was removed.

At the same time, harsher penalties were introduced for a number of offences. These included being the client of a sex worker under the age of 18; coercing someone into sex work or keeping them there; and tougher penalties against any sex worker, client or manager who fails to promote safe sex.

According to Tim Barnett, a New Zealand member of parliament who helped champion the legislation change in 2003, "the sky did not fall in".

He argues that both police and sex workers reported a "better relationship", easing the solving of sex work-related crime, without the corruption temptations created by a criminalized environment. There has also been no evidence of an increase in the number of sex workers and brothels, but there have been cases where brothel owners who abuse sex workers and violent clients have been prosecuted.

"Five years after the law was changed, a major statutory review committee, chaired by the former police commissioner and backed up by extensive research, reported in 2008 that the real impact would take many more years but that the law was working as intended," said Barnett in documents he has presented to Sweat.

Those who oppose the decriminalisation option argue that sex work demeans the dignity of women and that options such as the "Swedish model" - which criminalises only the client and outlaws pimps and brothels - are better options.

According to activists in Sweat and Sisonke, these arguments ignore the indignity of poverty and what it means to lack education for work that pays more than a minimum wage, in an environment of high unemployment.

They also argue that South Africa's current legal framework is not in line with international treaties to which it is a signatory.

For Linda and other sex workers, the issue is simple: "This is how I feed my family. All we want is for our work to be recognised as work."

[This news article was sourced from Great Indaba.com: South Africa: When sex is work.]

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
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 09:25

Are you dating a John?

By Glynis Horning, Cosmopolitan

Technician Jaco*, 27, is upfront about why he sometimes stops in for ‘some action’ at a Durban hotel after work. ‘There’s stuff you just don’t like asking your girlfriend to do, right? If you pay a prostitute, it’s about business, not feelings, so no-one gets hurt.’ It takes more persuasion for him to reveal the services he procures. S&M? Oral sex? He rolls his eyes. Anal sex? He hesitates, then cracks a joke that both confirms it and crudely covers his discomfort.

Durban student Simon*, 22, on the other hand, is vociferously against ‘exploiting a vulnerable class of women for sexual gratification’. A Humanities major and supporter of the Jes Foord Foundation (which assists rape survivors), he says, ‘I hope I have the balls to discuss my needs with my girlfriends and appreciate theirs. The women I date are pretty open-minded. But if I seriously fancied someone who wasn’t, I’d accept it and take responsibility for my jollies – that’s what a healthy imagination is for.’

Differences such as these between Jaco and Simon reflect something of the range of responses recorded in a recent controversial US survey that has sparked much debate and criticism. Entitled ‘Comparing Sex Buyers With Men Who Don’t Buy Sex: “You can have a good time with the servitude” vs “You’re supporting a system of degradation”’, the survey was conducted by Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research And Education (a nonprofit project of the San Francisco Women’s Centers). It received coverage in July’s Newsweek magazine, which was accused of poor journalism by critics for covering Farley’s contentious findings.

The magazine article stated that ‘the men who buy sex are your neighbours and colleagues’ and that Farley’s survey ‘reveals how the burgeoning demand for porn and prostitutes is warping personal relationships and endangering women and girls’. Newsweek reported that estimates regarding the percentage of men who engage in buying sex range ‘from 16% to 80%’, and that Farley found it so common in the digital age that her team struggled to find ‘nonusers’ for their control group. Farley’s broad definition of ‘men who pay for sex’ included any man who has paid a prostitute, escort, massage-parlour or sex worker; guys who have ever exchanged ‘something of value’ for a sex act, and men who had – even once – in the past year bought a porn magazine, had a lap-dance, set foot inside a strip club or watched porn online.

Among her findings (available on www.prostitutionresearch.com) were that men who buy sex are more likely to see sex as separate from relationships, enjoy the lack of emotional connection with sex workers and see them as objects, more frequently express aggression towards women, and are more likely to be associated with crimes of violence against women. Sex workers risk abuse, assault and even death. Over time, says Farley, men’s tastes change and they look for more anal sex and S&M, which can negatively impact on their relationships if partners are reluctant to comply.


WHY WORRY?
Should women wory about Farley’s findings? Sally-Jean Shackleton, executive director of the Sex Workers Education And Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) in Cape Town, doesn’t think so. There’s been scant research internationally into those who pay for sex services such as prostitution and porn, and none locally, she says. ‘Farley has always had a negative view of sex work and her research has been widely discredited,’ she says. ‘Yes, today there’s increased access to porn and sex work, but it also means people have more information about their bodies, sex and desires, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We need to open, not close, the space being given to sexuality, and increase the balance of information.’

In fact, Farley is a known anti-pornography activist and a self-declared ‘prostitution abolitionist’. Her detractors point out her extremely reactionary behaviour, including the fact that she’s been arrested 13 times in nine US states for going into sex shops and ripping up or burning copies of Penthouse magazine.

As for Farley’s concerns that porn and sex work fuel violence against women, Shackleton says there’s no convincing evidence of this. Farley makes ‘an impossible leap of association’ and her study consisted of only 201 men in Boston – in paid-for interviews. ‘When sex workers in SA tell us about harassment and violence, it’s mostly at the hands of police officers,’ Shackleton says.

Sexologist Dr Elna McIntosh, director of DISA Sexual And Reproductive Health Clinic in Johannesburg, has met Farley. ‘She’s anathema to many in the sex industry because sex work is a choice they make,’ she says. McIntosh agrees that with easier access to porn and transactional sex, men could be ‘desensitised’, especially to previously taboo practices such as anal sex. ‘But if to read about or view such practices made you run around and rape, and commit other violent crimes, that’s what sexologists would be doing.’

Explicit material combining sex with violence or showing women in degrading ways may reinforce or increase sexist attitudes and sexual aggression, but only in ‘the small percentage of men’ who already have these attitudes, she says. ‘Most sexual offenders come from punitive homes and were exposed to sexual and physical abuse themselves.’

Research has shown that less than 10% of X-rated or hard-core material in most explicit books, magazines and videos contains aggression, she says, and less than three percent involves physical violence or rape. ‘R-rated material contains much more violence, though most R-rated movies don’t have full nudity or explicit sex – their material isn’t even seen as pornographic, but it’s very sexually suggestive and promotes sexist attitudes more than the X-rated material,’ McIntosh says.


WHO SELLS?
Zanele*, 28, is a prostitute operating from a Durban hotel. She ran away from ‘trouble at home’ as a teen. Through sex work, Zanele saved enough to get matric by correspondence as well as a computer qualification. ‘But I can’t find a job, and I have a child and my mother to support.’

She says her clients are getting rougher. ‘They get ideas from sex videos. Sometimes they demand anal and you feel like you’re being raped, but they say they have paid.’ Once she was being choked but managed to scream for help. ‘One friend came back with scars on her face; another girl disappeared. Many take drugs to feel okay.’ Zanele is proud that she doesn’t. ‘I don’t enjoy my work,’ she says flatly, ‘but I know I’m doing what many ordinary girls do to thank a guy for dinner or new shoes. They can hate me or fear me, but for now I don’t have a choice.’

Sex work ranges widely from streetwalking to up-market brothels and private escort agencies, each with a particular culture and unwritten code of practice. ‘Some sex workers establish regular relationships with clients; for others, sex is purely business and anonymous,’ says Cape Town clinical social worker Dr Gordon Isaacs. ‘As in any relationship, empathy, warmth, jealousy and even abuse can be part of an interaction.’

In South Africa some 500 000 women are raped each year, he says. But this is a reflection of complex historical, political, social and economic factors – sex work and pornography can’t be targeted for blame. Internationally, Internet porn is soaring. US technology media company Tech Media Network CEO Jerry Ropelato reports at internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com that, ‘Every second, 28 258 Internet users are viewing pornography. In that same second 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines. Every 30 minutes, a new pornographic video is being created in the US.’

South Africans are tapping into these sites, says McIntosh, among them a local amateur black porn site, www.sondeza.com. Last year the young IT entrepreneur behind it, Tau Morena, produced the first local black porn movie, Mapona, starring pole dancer Palesa Mbau. ‘You can buy hard-core DVDs for R10 at taxi ranks; they sell even to kids,’ says Morena. ‘My stuff is soft core and guys wear condoms.’ Follow-ups will be ‘educational erotica’, showing how to put on condoms sensually and how to ‘go down’. ‘I play a useful role in society,’ he says.

This is also what high-end sex workers say, including 24-year-old Mbau. ‘Money doesn’t make people better,’ she tells COSMO, ‘but if you respect yourself, they respect you. I do what suits me – tonight I’m being taken to Sandton for dinner and I’m being paid for it.’ She says she doesn’t feel exploited. ‘If I’m not in the mood, I tell guys to call another time.

Some push for things I don’t do, or they don’t want to wear a condom, but then they get to see my bad side. You must be brave in this industry and I don’t take nonsense.’ A 30-something Johannesburg dominatrix who advertises online as ‘South Africa’s youngest and most sought-after fetish mistress’ (www.missdi.co.za) is – unsurprisingly – equally firm. ‘I used to be in corporate management but got tired of the politics and red tape. In this job I can say, “There’s the door, fuck off!”’

She laughs at the idea that what she does could encourage violence against women or threaten clients’ intimate relationships. ‘It’s role-playing; clients know any manhandling by them would bring an assistant running and a lifetime ban. I’m giving them what they can’t get from the other women in their lives, so I’m doing those women a favour.’


WHO BUYS?
Those who pay prostitutes range from pop stars and politicians to professionals, ‘women as well as men’, and many are married, says Isaacs. Their motivation is equally varied – a need to express themselves sexually, migrancy, living in hostels or dorms, loneliness, ‘as well as a need for different sexual experiences based on fantasy and desire’. Says McIntosh, ‘The prostitute’s client could be my son or your boyfriend.

These men come to me with one thing in common, the “afraids” – they’re afraid they have HIV/Aids, even if they used a condom. It’s a guilt/confession thing; they want reassurance. Almost all of them say, “This is not who I am, I was away from home, I felt lonely and horny,” and alcohol is generally involved.’

Many tell her they have only ‘missionary’ sex with their partner, or are in a new relationship and don’t know how far they can push boundaries. ‘If only couples communicated more,’ she says. Conservative upbringing and culture often hold them back. Durban nail artist, Selvie*, 22, tells how she ‘tried to accommodate’ her husband’s porn-fuelled interest in oral and anal sex after discovering he was visiting a massage parlour. ‘But I can’t stand it! I’ve even tried watching porn with him; it’s a turn-off.’ They are in therapy but she worries about her relationship. ‘Sometimes I’d almost rather he paid other women,’ she says.

Using porn or going to strip clubs is only a problem if the person becomes preoccupied or obsessed with sexual activity, or ventures into illegal areas such as paedophilic porn or bestiality, or if it worries their partner, says McIntosh. ‘If you think your man has a problem, tell him you’re concerned because his behaviour is impacting on your relationship, which you value. Offer to go with him to see a certified sex therapist.’

The same applies if you discover he’s been to a sex worker. ‘This can hurt more, because it raises questions of infidelity and HIV/Aids,’ she says. ‘If you still want to stick with him, go to therapy – preferably together.’

[This article was originally sourced from the Cosmopolitan magazine, in December 2011 (see attachment below for the PDF version of this article)]

Published in News
Monday, 19 December 2011 09:07

Waiting? Short skirt? Must be a hooker

By Loyiso Sidimba (City Press)

Do you wear miniskirts on street corners, lift, lower, “open” your clothes to expose your private parts or breasts and importune would-be clients?

Then police have been watching you since September and you may be guilty of being a female sex worker or a prostidude (a male prostitute).

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has given police officers a list of things to note when arresting a “lady or gentleman of the night”.

But the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) believes the move gives police permission to stalk and even harass sex workers.

Sweat says for a cop to ascertain whether people are frequenting the streets, police will have to wait around for them to appear and then harass them to ascertain their reasons for being in the street at a particular time.

“Police resources should be used to watch out for crimes, not short skirts,” the advocacy group says.

Sweat director Sally-Jean Shackleton described the move as outrageous and asking too much from cops.

But the message from police is clear: do not stand on the same street corners on repeated occasions, wear certain types of clothes, accost clients, make insistent requests or wave down cars to draw motorists’ attention.

These moves may be used against alleged offenders in court. The NPA hopes the only inference courts will draw on criteria that fit is that the suspect was soliciting sex for purposes of prostitution, an illegal trade in South Africa.

The accused will be guilty of contravening the Sexual Offences Act of 1957, previously the Immorality Act, which made it a criminal offence for black people to have intercourse with whites.

According to the Sexual Offences Act, any person who entices, solicits or importunes in any public place for immoral purposes is guilty of an offence.

It says anyone over 18 who wilfully exhibits him or herself in indecent dress or manner at any door or window or within view of any public street or place is guilty of an offence.

Sweat’s Shackleton said despite an April 2009 interdict barring police from arresting sex workers, there was an increase in illegal profiling.

“They’re arrested daily, fined (between R500 and R1 000) and verbally abused by police,” said Shackleton.

Sweat took Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, then Western Cape police boss Mzwandile Petros, the Wynberg, Woodstock, Claremont and Sea Point station commanders and the City of Cape Town to court.

They were all ordered by Western Cape High Court Judge Burton Fourie to stop arresting sex workers when they knew “with a high degree of probability that no prosecution would follow such arrests”.

The NPA did not respond to requests for comment.

Sweat invites sex workers who experience trouble from police to call its 24-hour hotline for assistance 0 0800 60 60 60.

[This news article was sourced from City Press.co.za http://www.citypress.co.za/SouthAfrica/News/Waiting-Short-skirt-Must-be-a-hooker-20111217]

Published in News

By SWEAT Director, Sally-Jean Shackleton

This year has seen many changes for SWEAT. We moved into our new offices in February this year - and into a much larger space with our very own board room and workshop venue. There have also been some staff changes - Eric Harper left the organisation as Director, Maria Stacey and Dr Gordon Isaacs increased their working hours and we also welcomed our 16 Peer Educators as full time employees.

We embarked on a new challenge in our Advocacy Programme with Tim Barnett's help, and our Outreach and Development Programme has expanded nationally to partnering with 7 organisations across the country. Here in Cape Town, we are pioneering holistic and comprehensive services to sex workers - seeing huge growth in our new male and transgender support groups. We are reaching new heights with our partner the TB and HIV Care Association - stepping up our services and reaching even more people.

We are hopeful that our hard work for universal access for sex workers to services, rights and justice will continue to impact on the lives of our service users, and we look forward to seeing SWEAT and the Sisonke Sex Workers Movement grow from strength to strength.

We thank all of our partners, allies and funders and most of all thank sex workers for continuing to speak out and lead us to new successes.

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