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 ]
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.
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.]
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.'
JOHANNESBURG, 23 August 2012—Last night saw the presentation of the South African National AIDS Council’s (SANAC)’s National Sex Worker Sector Plan at a cocktail event held in Johannesburg.
The sex worker plan is the first plan to provide a coordinated and multi-sectoral response to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for sex workers in South Africa with sex workers at its centre.
A team led by the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) developed the plan over many months of consultation with a range of stakeholders, including sex workers themselves – heeding the call for ‘nothing about us without us’.
The sex worker sector plan is a clear articulation of a sexual and reproductive health package where a sex worker could receive a range of SRH services. This includes the management of sexually transmitted infections, post-exposure prophylaxis for rape and sexual assault, HPV screening, contraception and termination of pregnancy services.
Says Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in South Africa, ‘This is a milestone which we must appreciate, but we have to work harder and do more. In countries that have invested in programmes which target key populations a lot has been achieved. This is an opportunity to hold accountable a number of stakeholders. Let’s look at this as a moment in time and look to opportunities’.
Added Dr Fareed Abdullah, CEO of SANAC, ‘Other countries which have brought national sex worker programmes to scale have shown a significant reduction in HIV prevalence among this key population’.
The presentation of the plan comes at the close of the first day of a two-day national sex workers symposium to explore best practices in the HIV response for sex workers and how to learn from these when building a national programme for sex workers.
The symposium is taking the discussion beyond the rhetoric and controversy and focusing on the evidence base on sex work and health, with a focus on HIV. It is estimated that HIV prevalence among sex workers is between 44 and 69 per cent, while it has stabilized at 17% in the general population. In 2010, one in five new infections of HIV were related to sex work.
The second day of the symposium will see the Deputy Minister of Police, the Honourable Maggie Makhotso Sotyu will speak about the role of the South African Police Services (SAPS) in reducing stigma among sex workers.
WHAT National Sex Workers' Symposium: Best practices for HIV prevention, care and treatment for sex workers in South Africa
WHEN Wednesday 22 August & Thursday 23 August 2012
WHERE Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre, View Point Road, Boksburg
WHO Policy makers, researchers, public health professionals, development organisations, the NGO sector, activists and sex workers
KEY EVENTS on Wednesday, 22 August
- 09h30 to 10h15
- - Key note address: The Hon Ms Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities
- 13h30 to 14h30
- - Address: Sex workers, HIV and human rights: the role of the South African Police: The Hon Ms Maggie Sotyu, Deputy Minister of Police
- - Official launch of South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) sex worker sector plan – cocktail event Address: Dr. Fareed Abdullah, CEO, SANAC Dr Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Country Representative
KEY TOPICS Sessions will cover topics such as: What we know about sex work; the cast and crew of sex work; cross-cutting vulnerabilities of sex work; best practices; sex work as work: getting in, staying in and getting out of the industry
- - Press kits will be available at the symposium
- - One-on-one interviews can be arranged with key experts and sex workers at the symposium through the media focal points below
- - Privacy of sex workers should be respected. We ask that no identifying photographs of sex workers should be taken without prior informed consent
[See below for a PDF version of this media advisory]
My name is Monica*. I’m 32 years. I started to sell my body at the age of 20 in Durban. It was very hard then because the police were racist, and only arrested Black sex workers on the street, and not Indian girls. They would also beat us up when they arrested us.
There was one police officer who did not arrest me. Instead he asked for free sex. I just gave him because I wanted to go home. He left the other girls inside. They had to first pay a fine of R50, before being let out.
One day I refused to give him sex, and he said to me if I don’t want to have sex with him he will never take me out again. So I decided to give him, because I just did not want to be in jail. He tell his other police officer friend and his friend also started doing the same thing to me. At that time I did not know my rights- I was blank and blind.
When I come to Cape Town I met an organization called SWEAT- Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce- that educated me about my rights and health issues. Now I’m strong and I'm willing to educate other sex workers that still don’t know their rights.
*Not my real name
By Frieda*, Cape Town based sex worker
Ngamanye amagama ndizama ukuthi kudala kwathengiswa. Ngoba kudala ubulala nomfana , oo-mama bayokumhlawulisa. Lankomo yeyantoni? Bendithengwa. Ngobadilele nomfana wahlawuliswa.
Ngokewsiko lwam, sikhule sihlolwa. Kukuthini ukuhlolwa? Besijongwa ukuba sisaphelele na. Besijongwa njani? Ngokuthi sihlolwe ngethumbu lebiki. Besihlolwa ngoo-mama bodwa, kungekho oo-tata.
Ukuba ke kufumaneke ukuba awphelelanga, ubusenzelwa isihewule. Yintoni isihewule? Isihewule kuxa wenantombi, uhamba ngaze, uphathe umkhonto. Ii-ntombi kezona, zinxiba onomgondiso, zikhaphe wena singaye. Ngeloxesha kuyiwa kulomfana kuyokuhlawulisa umfana.
Ukhupha ntoni umama womfana? Ibhokwe ezine, okanye inkomo. Yenziwantoni , lenkomo iyaxhelwa ityiwe ujongile. Ngoba kaloku wena uphumile ebuntombini. Kuthiwe ke kutyiwa inkomo kamama.
Sivumele sibephandle sithengise ngomzimba wethu asibanga nto yamntu. Siphangelela abantwana bethu.
In other words, I'm trying to say that sex work has been around for a long. Because in the olden days when you had sex with a boy, our mothers would make him pay. What is that cow for? I was being bought. Because I had sex with a boy, and he was asked to pay for it
Growing up in accordance with my culture we were tested (virginity testing)? What is to be tested? We were being checked whether we were still complete. How were we tested? We were tested with the stem of a feather. We were tested by women only, no men.
If you are found incomplete you were given isihewule. What is isihewule? Isihewule is when the young woman (who has been found to not be a virgin) is asked to walk naked carrying a spear. The other young women (who are virgins) are allowed to wear panties, and accompany you to the boy's home, to get him to pay.
What does the boy pay? He pays with either four goats, or one cow. What is done to this cow? It is slaughtered and eaten, while you watch. Because you are no longer a virgin. They then say they are eating your mother's cow.
Allow us to sell our bodies (for sex), because we have not stolen anything from anyone. We are working for our children.
*Not her real name
[Photograph sourced from http://www.dontpaniconline.com/magazine/politics/zulu-virgin-testing]
By Buhle Zuma, University of the Witwatersrand Communications Officer
Taking on the government's challenge that society needs to continue to deliberate on the decriminalisation of sex work, the Wits Centre for Ethics is hosting a debate entitled Should Consenting Adults be Allowed to Pay and be Paid for sex? Sex work is a morally and emotionally charged topic, and goes to the core of questions about ethics and the role of criminal law, gender roles, the private/public divide, as well as public health and policy.
The public and the media are invited to attend.
Panelists include Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Lucy Allais (Wits Philosophy Department), Eusebius McKaiser (Wits Centre for Ethics), Mickey Meji (National Co-ordinator of the Africa Sex Worker Alliance) and Anneke Meerkotter (Southern Africa Litigation Centre).
Event details are as follows:
Date: 18 July 2012
Time: 18:00-20:00 (refreshments from 5:30)
Venue: Senate Room, 2nd Floor, Senate House, East Campus
For media interviews please contact Dr Lucy Allais on 076 025 3224.
[This event announcement was sourced from Link2Media: Should consenting adults be allowed to pay and be paid for sex work?]
Decriminalising sex work and inclusion of sex workers under unorganised labour are some of the demands that would be raised at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Kolkata later this month which will see participants from 27 countries.
The event, which is being held in India for the first time, will be digitally linked to the main conference sessions in the United States from July 22 to 27 as sex workers are not allowed entry in the country.
"Sex workers have an important role to play in community response to HIV and we will make our voices hear loud and clear from Kolkata. Idea is to ensure that issues related to intravenous drug users (IDU) and Men having sex with Men (MSM) can be debated," Andrew Hunter of Asian Network of Sex Workers told a press conference.
More than 900 participants representing 27 countries along with nearly 300 community-based organisations from across the globe will participate in the conference.
Lakshmi, Programme Director of Ashodya Samithi, said "Major issues like freedom to sex workers and allowing them to move free and inclusion of their representatives in policy making bodies in government and other institutions will be debated."
In 2011, Supreme Court formed a commission to look into the rehabilitation of the sex workers, the activists said.
[This news article was sourced from Jagran Post: AIDS conference to demand decriminalising sex work]