By Marlise Richter, of the African Centre for Migration & Society (Wits University)
A criminal justice system under which sex workers are not protected from abuse is unlikely to uphold any human rights. While the Law Commission continues its decade-long hemming and hawing over its recommendations to amend legislation, South Africa’s streets will remain places of rape, murder, bribery and brutality.
Just less than a month ago, a small group of sex workers and sex worker allies and activists congregated in Hillbrow, Cape Town and elsewhere to remember their colleagues who were killed or harmed in 2012. Indeed, 17 December is “International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers”. You might not have known this. Perhaps the more prominent Day of Reconciliation on the 16th was more on your mind at that time, or you decided to take a well-deserved holiday from news, policy conferences, strikes, symbolic public holidays and speeches, and just revel in the festive spirit.
These two days in December were not synchronised by design, but yet both point to the need to contemplate cruelty, violence and intolerance and how we can free our societies from it. The former was instituted in 2003 by USA-based Annie Sprinkle, a former sex worker who now holds a PhD (evidence that the two are not mutually exclusive), to commemorate the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington. On 18 December 2003, Gary Ridgeway was convicted of 48 murders. He confessed to 71, but he also noted that he had killed so many that he had lost count.
“I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught,” said Ridgeway, who continued on his devastating trail of murder for more than 20 years, even though several people knew that he was responsible. Many in the sex work community in Seattle were too scared to speak out. Those who did, were not believed.
This pattern of preying on sex workers by serial killers is discernible elsewhere. There are Sheen Changing and Sheen Changing from China (11 sex workers), Hiroaki Hidaka from Japan (four) and, of course, London’s Jack the Ripper (number of victims unknown). South Africa’s Stewart Wilkes (AKA “Bowtie Boer”) was convicted in 1998 of seven murders, some of them sex workers, in Port Elizabeth. Several of these killers were not brought to book for years.
It would seem that sex worker murders and abuse do not count for much, perhaps particularly so in bloody South Africa. Violence and crime permeate our consciousness. Public responses to bloodshed, aggression and brutality often depend on whether a family member, friend, acquaintance or neighbour was attacked. Chances are that you are not related to any of the sex workers killed or maimed by serial killers, vicious clients or ruthless police. Why should you care? In fact, with the limited capacity for caring each of us has, can you afford to care?
Let’s move beyond personal responses, and focus on the system that could have produced these atrocities, and our limited capacity to respond to it.
Sex work in South Africa is a crime. Remnants of the old Immorality Act are still alive and kicking in 2012 in the form of S 20(1A)(a) of the Sexual Offences Act. This provision makes you a criminal for having sex “for reward”.
What is reward? The vagueness of the definition should trouble you, since this dinosaur law does not provide guidance on what this entails. Fortunately, the Department of Justice has recognised that we are no longer living in the 1950s. It charged the South African Law Reform Commission with the responsibility of coming up with recommendations on how South Africa should approach the emotive issue of sexual morality and the role of the state. The Law Commission has hemmed and hawed for more than a decade and has not yet given us any concrete recommendations. It does not help that the Law Commission is currently without commissioners because Minister of Justice Jeff Redebe has overlooked his duty to reappoint them. This has been the case since the beginning of 2012, leaving law reform processes in limbo despite promises from the acting deputy chief state law adviser that these appointments are “imminent”.
While we wait for the Law Commission to re-start, consider this: The world’s foremost female philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, recently explained in the New York Times that “Keeping prostitution illegal only increases the threats of violence and sickness and abuse that women face because illegality prevents adequate supervision, encourages the control of pimps and discourages health checks.”
When sex work is a crime, the law gives sex workers little protection. Sex workers are beaten, raped, bribed and pepper-sprayed by lawless members of the police force. This happens to them while on the streets, while walking to shops or sleeping (alone) in their homes. Sex workers are often ridiculed at the police station front office when they try to report rape, theft or other crimes. In Rustenburg in September last year, 14 sex workers found working on the street, were forced into a closed police van, pepper-sprayed and left overnight. Legato battled to breathe throughout the ordeal, and everyone in the van shouted and begged the police to open the van for air or to assist her. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Legato died at dawn. One of her colleagues notes in an affidavit how she closed Legato’s eyes after she had stopped breathing. Yet, despite the danger to themselves, Legato’s colleagues are bravely seeking justice for what had happened. The Women’s Legal Centre and Lethabong Legal Advice Centre brought a complaint on behalf of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and the sex workers involved, to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. Their complaint and follow-ups have not yet been successful.
The vulnerability of sex workers is also our vulnerability. A criminal justice system that brutalises sex workers is one that is likely to do the same to others. An Independent Police Investigative Directorate that is reluctant to act on acts of inhumanity by members of the police, is one that is likely to disregard other complaints too. A society that ignores cruelty against its most vulnerable members, will continue its heartlessness irrespective of how many Days of Reconciliation are observed.
What is also clear is that outdated laws, old-school moralism about a “good and virtuous” woman and careless mindsets all play lethally into a situation where brutal killings and police malice barely raise a response from us, the public, or those who oversee the police.
Or worse: where some may quietly think “they got what they deserved”.
And the law? The law contributes to our own callousness and disregard. This is because it makes criminals of women, men and transgender people seeking to sell sexual services. One important step is to change the laws that criminalise sex work, and to respect sex workers and how they make a living.
Abolishing all criminal penalties for sex work would challenge the stigma that surrounds sex workers. It would help secure theier human rights and dignity, and make for safer work and living conditions for them. And for us.
While law reform is no panacea for age-old “social problems”, it is a vital first step.
Making sex workers criminals is counterproductive, irrational and cruel. Every day that the police spend resources on “raiding”, “clamping down on” or harassing sex workers, is one more day that makes others more vulnerable, and is one more day during which fewer resources can be used to round up real criminals, and bring them to justice.
[This news article was sourced from the Daily Maverick: 'Sex workers' vulnerability is our vulnerability']
By Kwanele Sosibo, Mail&Guardian
On Klopper Street, near the Rustenburg Magistrate's Court, sex workers ply a brisk trade by night. The women, seemingly oblivious to the prying eyes of strangers, huddle together on the pavement and are casually approached by men.
After a brief negotiation, they sidle into the disused buildings flanking parking lots at both ends of the block. Sometimes, parked trucks obscure their proceedings, otherwise the abandoned buildings provide the requisite privacy.
The women working this nondescript stretch of urban decay are far from a carefree bunch. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, in particular, the sex workers and their clients are more circumspect about their liaisons because the police, working with the Greater Rustenburg Citizens' Forum for Change and the municipality's public safety department, are known to swoop on areas where they ply their trade.
The swoops, witnessed by the Mail & Guardian, are meant to humiliate both client and sex worker: they are caught literally with their pants down as they are confronted by a convoy of marked police vehicles, pepper-sprayed, assaulted and searched before being shoved into a vehicle.
In at least one case, the woman concerned never returned. At least three sex workers interviewed independently stated that one of their colleagues had died in police custody on the morning of September 22 after they were rounded up in Rustenburg's central business district the night before.
The women say they were put in the back of a police vehicle, pepper-sprayed and left in the vehicle for the night after it was parked at the police station.
When they were later "discovered" by the police, they were escorted off the premises before the ambulance they had called for a colleague arrived. Kim, who claimed she was detained in the police "gumba gumba" on the night with Lerato, the missing woman, said: "I know a dead person when I see one. She was foaming at the mouth."
Another, Maria, said she closed Lerato's eyes after her corpse went cold.
Nadine, another witness, said Lerato made heaving sounds after they were pepper-sprayed while inside the van and her breathing never returned to normal. Then she became quiet.
"This thing is affecting us. We can't come to the street and get beaten up," Kim said. "The way they beat us when they arrest us, we get wounds, not swellings."
When six of the women took the case to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate a few days later, they were told that only one woman could make a statement, but nothing has come of the report.
Sisonke, a peer educator group, and the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) have laid a complaint with the police ministry over the directorate's failure to investigate the matter.
But the directorate said none of the woman's colleagues could provide details of her identity.
"The Independent Police Investigative Directorate has been unresponsive since the stakeholder meeting [on November 2], returning neither emails nor calls," said Jenna Praschma, Sweat's advocacy consultant. "In their last communication with me, they stated that they were unable to even open a docket due to lack of evidence, despite having denied key witnesses the opportunity to give statements [by saying it could only take one statement].
"They have been reluctant to conduct even preliminary investigations into the allegations."
The Greater Rustenburg Citizens' Forum for Change prides itself on "combating crime". The organisation, which works with the police, organises community policing forums (CPFs) to further its aims.
A self-congratulatory advertorial in the Platinum Weekly, a local newspaper, reads: "Great successes have been achieved in sector one, crime is down, drug lords are moving out … much less prostitutes on the street. The current trend we are seeing is that the criminals are moving out of sector one and are starting to target the other sectors because there are no CPF structures in place. This is going to get worse if these CPFs does [sic] not start as soon as possible."
Sector one comprises part of the CBD and East End, two areas in which prostitution thrives. Rustenburg North, which falls under the Thlabane policing sector, is another thriving hot spot.
Although the forum may spin its project as an anti-crime initiative, Kim said other agendas came into play because "some of these police want money and free things. If they catch you, they beat you and drop you in places that you don't know.
"If they take you to the police station, they make you shower with your clothes on, or clean the police station or the police cars. They're fucked up."
Another woman claimed she was coming out of a tavern when police stopped her and beat her with a stick. "If they find money on you, they take it. We can't do business now because of the cops."
Kim, a Zimbabwean, said the constant harassment had restricted business and forced sex-work prices down. "A night could be very busy. We'd charge about R100 a round but now we're down to R60. Before we could charge a white guy R250 for a fuck and a blow, but these days they are also scared."
Frustrated sex workers
Anecdotes such as these are interpreted as success by Johan de Klerk, chairperson of the citizens' forum. He said, gleefully, that frustrated sex workers were fleeing to neighbouring towns such as Vryburg, Mafikeng, Potchefstroom and Krugersdorp. "There's no business for them here any more and the only way to sort it out is for people to move."
During a conversation in a suburban coffee shop close to where prostitutes ply their trade at night, the grey-haired IT entrepreneur argued his case against the legalisation of prostitution ("where are they going to build the brothel, next to someone's house?"), stated that the women were all helpless victims at the mercy of drug-dealing pimps and recounted how, with the help of the taxi association, the forum had shut down buildings in which illegal immigrants were dealing in drugs.
That women could be driven to the streets by poverty seemed an alien concept to him.
"Why would you want to sell your body?" he asked, his arms flailing. "The Nigerians get them on drugs and then they owe too much and can't get out of it any more."
De Klerk's statement is only partially true; the pimps operate predominantly in the eastern and northern parts of town.
During the conversation, De Klerk acknowledged that the result of the forum's and the sector one police's work could be to shift the problem to another location, becoming a tiring game of cat and mouse.
"I've got kids and grandkids that must live in this town. We can't let criminals take it over."
Rustenburg police Captain Jackie Nkoana, a supporter of the forum, refused to answer questions about the issues.
The police did not attend a meeting of those involved in the matter at the Rustenburg hospice in November, which suggests that the hostile relationship will continue.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.
[This news article was sourced from the Mail&Guardian Online: 'Sex in the shadows of Marikana']
By Melissa Turley, of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Sex workers gathered at a meeting in Cape Town say it isn’t the clients they service they are most scared of – it’s the police.
Angie de Bruin, a former sex worker turned paralegal and sex worker rights activist, says South African police took her condoms while she was working just because they felt they had the power to do so. She says police and hospital workers taunted and publicly humiliated her in an attempt to remind her that to them she is nothing but a prostitute.
“Police are taking advantage of the sex workers. They do everything in their power to get rid of sex work. They rape sex workers,” de Bruin said. “It’s horrible. Not terrible, it’s horrible.”
The Sex Worker Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Sisonke (a self-described "movement of sex workers, by sex workers"), and the Women’s Legal Centre recently released a study based on interviews with 308 sex workers. “Stop Harassing Us: Tackle Real Crime” finds that approximately 70 percent of sex workers have been abused by police. The main types of abuse include assault, harassment, arbitrary arrest, violation of procedures and standing orders, inhumane conditions of detention, unlawful profiling, exploitation, bribery and denial of access to justice.
De Bruin explains that when police arrest a sex worker they will sometimes ask for sexual favors in exchange for the sex worker’s release. Sex workers who bring a legal case against police who have abused them have also been targeted and beaten up in retaliation.
“I knew one case where the police even kicked the girl in the stomach and she was supposed to get married. She had to postpone the marriage and they came afterwards and made fun of her,” de Bruin said.
A female sex worker interviewed for the study says, “A police officer unzipped his pants and put a condom on...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 my family would find out.”
Another female sex worker adds that after being held all night by police, driven around and pepper-sprayed, she went to the police station to report the abuse.
“I told them I want to lay a charge against a police officer who keeps harassing me. And they laughed at me and said that is his job.”
De Bruin says the high rate of unemployment in South Africa often leads people to sex work as a means to survive – a way to support themselves and their children. Sex work is illegal in South Africa but organizations like SWEAT are working to decriminalize it.
“We try and bring a general awareness to people that sex workers are still human regardless of their profession and still deserve to enjoy the same human rights that we all enjoy,” Ntokozo Sibahle Yingwana, an advocacy officer at SWEAT said.
Yingwana explains that decriminalizing sex work would allow sex workers to realize their human rights given to them under the constitution, but adds that while working on law reform, they must simultaneously fight to reform the ingrained and negative opinions many South Africans have of sex workers.
“Our greatest challenge really is changing people’s mindsets at the lowest level possible because we realize that it’s only from the community and the society that our lawmakers will take [our] word on what laws to change,” Yingwana said.
The “Stop Harassing Us: Tackle Real Crime” study also finds that sex workers are often abused by police as a direct result of their criminal status which increases their vulnerability to violence and inability to seek justice.
“The current legal framework forces sex workers to the margins of South African society, where they are easy targets for abuse at the hands of police and clients. The only remedy is to change the way in which the sex work industry in South Africa is viewed under the law and by the institutions responsible for its administration,” the study states.
The idea of decriminalization is not new. During the World Cup of 2010, it was seriously considered in an effort to accommodate the influx of soccer tourists, but was never passed.
In August 2012, while speaking at the National Sex Work Symposium in Johannesburg, Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu called for sex work to be decriminalized “so it can be professionalized and police brutality against sex workers can be eradicated.” This vocal support is a big step forward as current decriminalization legislation is stagnant.
The laws regarding sex work that are now in place in South Africa are the same as when they were first passed in 1957, a remnant of an apartheid past from a time when it was an accepted practice for the police to exert their authority and at times brutal power to enforce the law.
SWEAT also tries to educate sex workers on safer health practices and solutions for problems ranging from violence to dealing with those clients who refuse to wear a condom. They also distribute packs of cards for sex workers to give to police who confront or harass them.
The message on the card? “Dear Police Officer, Please tell me if I am under arrest. If I am NOT under arrest, then you must let me go.” It goes on to explain a sex worker’s right to silence, right to see the officer’s badge and right to a legal adviser. It also reminds the officer of the sex worker’s right to be treated with respect.
It’s this common lack of respect and perpetuating stigma surrounding sex work that both De Bruin and Yingwana say has stalled legislation decriminalizing sex work.
“Our moral compass in South Africa should be our constitution that has been fought so hard for and what that means is that everyone has the right to their dignity and everyone has the right to a profession that they choose and everyone has the right to operate in that profession without any harassment or abuse or torture,” Yingwana said.
[This news article was sourced from the Pulizter Center on Crisis Reporting: Relying on Sex to Survive: The Fight for Decriminalization in South Africa ]
New research from six countries found that stop-and-search practices by the police are making sex workers less likely to carry condoms, said the Open Society Foundations today.
The report, Criminalizing Condoms, surveyed sex workers in Kenya, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, the United States, and Zimbabwe and found that police practices made it more likely that sex workers would have unprotected sex with their clients.
The law enforcement practices documented in the report fly in the face of government programs aimed at preventing the spread of HIV.
"While one arm of government works to get condoms into people's hands, another is taking them away," said Heather Doyle, Director of the Sexual Health and Rights Project at the Open Society Foundations.
More than 40 percent of sex workers surveyed reported that police had taken condoms from them; in Russia, that figure rose to 80 percent. In some locations sex workers reported that police have destroyed condoms with scissors, set them on fire, and even ran over condoms with their vehicles.
These actions have dire consequences for sex workers' health. In Namibia, 50 percent of sex workers surveyed said police destroyed their condoms and 75 percent of those who then did sex work had unprotected sex. Fifty-two percent of survey participants in the United States said they sometimes opted not to carry condoms because of stop-and-search practices.
Police also use condom possession to justify detaining or arresting people on charges related to sex work. The criminalization of sex work and use of condoms as evidence make sex workers particularly vulnerable to police abuse. The report found that police in all six countries harass and physically and sexually abuse sex workers who carry condoms. Arrest on the grounds of condom possession is used to extort and exploit sex workers.
"Again and again sex workers have told us that they are afraid to carry condoms because they worry it will mean being harassed or arrested by police," said Doyle. "The police are punishing people for doing the right thing, for carrying condoms and trying to protect their health."
At the 19th International Aids Conference to be held on July 22 to 27 in Washington, D.C., the Open Society Foundations, Human Rights Watch, and sex worker rights groups will raise the issue of condom confiscation with delegates and call on health professionals, scientists, and policymakers to support decriminalization of sex work and an end to confiscation of condoms by police.
The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.
[This news article was sourced from iAfrica.com, Condoms aren't to blame]
By Robert Hamblin, and Sistaz Hood
“Her work was illegal and her identity a shame. Transgender sex workers suffer more than just one hate in society” said Netta Marcus from the Sistaz Hood Transgender Sex Workers support group at Sex Worker Advocacy and Education Task force (SWEAT) in Cape Town.
The transgender women* from The Sistaz Hood marched in solidarity with lesbian and gay groups today, to protest the non delivery of government action on hate crimes in South Africa. The LGBT people participating in the march handed a memorandum of demands to Western Cape ANC official Songezo Mjonggile.
In recent weeks, there has been a very visible surge in hate crime towards LGBT people. Nine LGBT people were murdered in SA. In Cape Town the Sistaz Hood lost one of their members, Sasha Lee 37, only two weeks ago. She was stabbed through the heart and left to die on a pavement in Wynberg. She is one of many sisters the group has lost in the years they have known one another.
There is no research on Trans people in South African but an international study with five participating countries found that one transgender woman is killed for every working day of the month.
Most often these transwomen are sex workers. The study documents the homicides of transgender women where clear hate crime was documented by authorities. **
In recent weeks Sasha-Lee was not the only gender variant person to be murdered because of their lives and situations as people challenged by gender identity or sexual orientation. A gay man in Kuruman was near decapitated and a transgender women in the Eastern Cape was also murdered this week.
Other campaigns in the last 24 months have created a very clear consciousness about the systemic violent rape of lesbian women because of their sexual orientation. Government has failed to produce the hate crimes response it has promised and the problem becomes more fatal for LGBT people each day that government fails to respond.
The Sistaz Hood Transgender women sex workers group is one of the largest known organised gatherings of transgender people in South Africa on a regular basis. The members also do advocacy work whereby they document the typical situations of the average black transgender woman of South Africa. Severe marginalisation due to stigma surrounding gender variant presentation has them leading outsider lives since their teenage years. The average group member has been indigent since they were a young age and sex work is most often part of their survival strategies.
They struggle with ensuing addiction issues, homelessness and HIV and experience a consistent prejudice from all that is a service provider regarding health and other basic human rights. Fear of being murdered is daily reality for all of them. Every single one of them has lost a friend to a hate crime.
Says Sistaz Hood: We are who we are – stop Killing us. We implore government to respond to this genocide.
*Transgender woman: A transgender woman is a person who was born with a male body and who has the gender identity of a woman. (Male to female transsexual)
For more images of The Sistaz Hood visit the SWEAT FACEBOOK page.
By Malungelo Booi, of Eyewitness News
The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) on Wednesday urged communities to accept and understand that sex workers also have rights as citizens.
A sex worker was stabbed to death while another was injured during an attack in Wetton road in Wynberg.
A man dressed in jeans and a t-shirt attacked the two men dressed in women’s clothing over the weekend.
Police said one of them was stabbed four times.
The 36-yeat-old victims are said to be popular in the Wynberg area.
A seminar discussing challenges faced by sex-workers was held on Wednesday.
Sweat’s Advocacy Manager Oratile Moseki said, “For us it’s about time that people start to engage. We’re not necessarily saying that people should agree. Our struggle is not about whether people agree with sex workers or not, it’s about accepting that just because you don’t like sex workers doesn’t mean then that you should not grant them their citizen rights – which everybody has regardless of who you are.”
In March, the ANC Women's League called for the legalisation of prostitution.
[This news article was sourced from Eyewitness News:Sex workers call for tolerance]
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]
By BBC News.com
Advocates for sex workers in New York have called for legislation that would stop police officers confiscating condoms from prostitutes.
The Sex Workers Project says two surveys suggest that police frequently take away condoms from sex workers as evidence in prostitution cases.
The campaign group says the tactic has led to some prostitutes carrying fewer or no condoms and having unsafe sex.
The Sex Workers Project wants condoms to be inadmissible as evidence.
Under New York City's long-running health programme, an estimated 192m condoms have been handed out since 2007. HIV infections
The sponsor of the bill, Democratic state senator Velmanette Montgomery, says the measure is not endorsing prostitution.
"It is simply related to the fact that over 100,000 people right now are infected with HIV and Aids in New York City," she said.
But a New York prosecutor told the Associated Press news agency that not allowing supporting evidence such as condoms could allow pimps and traffickers to walk free.
And Alexandra Waldhorn, a spokeswoman for the New York City health department, said that it opposed the bill.
A report from the Sex Workers Project found that carrying condoms was fairly standard among prostitutes, but there were several cases where police had taken condoms without arrest.
The report cited two recent surveys of sex workers, conducted by the city's health department and by an advocate network.
The city health department survey of 63 people, found that 36 said their condoms had been confiscated and 26 told the researchers they had been arrested.
[This news article was sourced from BBC News.com: Sex worker advocates call for NYC condom evidence ban]
This year marks 16 years of South Africa’s Constitution and yet sex workers continue to be brutalised, harassed and their citizen rights violated in a conspiracy of silence and exploitation. Years after our hard won democratic freedoms, there is no protection under the law for sex workers who are denied access to basic human rights because of the work they do.
Over 100 sex workers, friends and family members yesterday attended the memorial service of Mary*, a 26 year old Zimbabwean sex worker who was found by a room-mate brutally murdered in a Hillbrow brothel, last Thursday night.
“We have been in touch with the hotel manager and sex workers working at the brothel– but they are nervous to speak to the police for fear of police action against them – after-all they are all criminalised under South African Law”, said Oratile Moseki, SWEAT- Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce- Advocacy Manager.
Moseki fears that Mary’s killer will not be brought to justice because witnesses will not come forward to assist police with the investigation. The criminalisation of sex work is directly linked to harm experienced by sex workers, as it enables an environment of stigma, abuse and violence, and a conspiracy of silence and inaction.
Our legal system- where everyone involved in sex work is criminalised- blocks sex workers from accessing their rights which they are entitled to under the Constitution. These include rights to safety, security and protection by the law.
“South Africa badly needs to repeal laws which criminalise sex work to enable sex workers to exercise their rights”, said Moseki. Sex workers have long awaited legal reform on sex work for 11 years. The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC), which gives legal reform recommendations to the Legislature, produced a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution in 2009, and the release of their final report was expected last year in March after several postponements. The SALRC recently stated that they are unable to say when the report will be released, and currently have no commissioners as Parliament has failed to confirm new appointments.
SWEAT and its partners continue to lobby Parliamentarians to support the decriminalisation of sex work. In December 2011, Sisonke and SWEAT sent a letter to all 490 parliamentarians asking them for their opinions on sex work, and for further engagement. Thus far only 10 replies have been received. We have contacted the Chief Whips demanding that they strongly encourage their Caucus to respond.
Speaking at Mary’s memorial service, Brenda*, a Johannesburg Sisonke Coordinator expressed the movement’s remorse at the loss of a fellow sex worker. “Sisonke is wounded by Mary’s passing. We extend our sincerest condolences to her family. We are shocked and concerned about the violence against sex workers which has become so commonplace, and which we know is because sex work is criminalised”, said Brenda.
Sisonke has offered counselling to sex workers who worked with Mary and are traumatised by the murder. People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) has also offered to assist in the counselling.
“Mary was cool and known by everyone. She was also our family breadwinner; supporting her 5 year old daughter, and our widowed mother”, said Maria*, Mary’s sister. After the memorial service Mary’s body was flown back home to Zimbabwe to be laid to rest by her family.
“Mary was a woman just like you and me – she was a mother, a sister, friend, neighbour, a breadwinner and a daughter”, said Marion Stevens, the coordinator of WISH Associates, a health rights organisation. “Sex workers deserve the freedoms that we fought for. We will not be free until we are all free”, added Stevens. Mary’s murder echoes a string of killings which occurred at a Durban brothel last year; when over a period of 10 months, 4 sex workers were strangled to death. To date nobody has been charged with these murders.
SWEAT and its partners call for the completion of the SALRC’s final report, and the Minister of Justice to take the lead to decriminalise sex work. We also call on the South African Government to adhere to commitments made to international human rights bodies and treaties – the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDRH), the African Charter, and resolutions taken at the United Nations (UN). We ask that our Government make real the spirit of our Constitution.
* Real names have not been used.
This press release is endorsed by the following organisations:
- - AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa
- - AIDS Legal Network
- - Cape Town Rape Crisis Trust
- - Centre for Applied Legal Studies
- - Centre for Positive Care
- - Lawyers Against Abuse
- - Legal Resources Centre
- - People Opposing Women Abuse
- - Sisonke
- - Sonke Gender Justice
- - Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre
- - Women in Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health(WISH) Associates
By Lesley Lanir, Digital Journal
Johannesburg - A sex worker from Zimbabwe thought to have been murdered by a client was found strangled to death with an electric cord at the Ambassador brothel in Hillbrow Johannesburg, South Africa, over the weekend. Her eyes had been plucked out with a coat hanger. I contacted Maria Stacey National Outreach and Development Manager SWEAT (Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce) regarding the incident.
This is a shocking incident but abuse and crimes of all types against sex workers are unfortunately common to us. Her family did not know she was a sex worker so her name cannot be revealed. She worked at a well-known Hillbrow brothel called The Ambassador. I spoke to my colleague Kholi Buthelezi, who is the National Coordinator of the Sisonke Sex Workers Movement. She said there is a traditional belief that the image of the killer is imprinted on the eyes of a murder victim, hence the murderer stabbed her eyes to prevent himself from being identified. The police are investigating.
What does SWEAT do?
SWEAT works to address the health and human rights of South African sex workers. Estimated 130, 000 – 500, 000 sex workers in South Africa out of a population of almost 50 million.
What about HIV and AIDS?
19.8% of all new HIV infections in South Africa are sex work related, however, only 5% have access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment care and support according to South Africa’s National AIDS Council (SANAC).
Is sex work a criminal offence in South Africa?
Sex work is criminalised in South Africa and sex workers are subject to stigma and abuse. In recent research conducted in the Eastern Cape for the United Nations Populations Fund UNFPA, sex workers spoke of their experiences at the hands of police; contrary to what many believe, most sex workers are not forced to do the work, and experience less abuse from clients and pimps than from the police. As one sex worker said, ”I have never been abused except by the police.”
How does SWEAT give the sex workers support?
One of the things we do is try to get the women’s stories out there to try to make people understand and see what is happening to young women. So we teach online media through workshops. Sex workers are taught how to make short digital stories about their lives. Topics range from police abuse, to entrapment, to rape, to being a refugee, to male rape, to HIV and relationships.
Was it easy to persuade the sex workers to make these video clips?
Sex workers want other people to know that they are human beings like any other mothers, daughters, girlfriends, wives, members of communities, members of church choirs and so on.
In order to emphasise the dreadful plight of these sex workers- what other examples of abuse can you tell us?
There is another incident that we are involved in at the moment. A sex worker in Booysens, Johannesburg killed her Nigerian pimp. She had been subjected to severe and prolonged abuse by him. He beat her daily, controlled her movements, and took most of the money she earned, leaving her with R10 ($1,50) per day. While she was in hospital as a result of her beating, she resolved to go back and kill him as she believed there was no other way of ending the abuse. After killing him, she ran away to Durban, but later handed herself into the police. She has been transferred back to Johannesburg to await trial. Sisonke will be supporting her and organising legal support.
[This news article was sourced from the Digital Journal: Sex worker strangled to death, eyes poked out]