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By Connect Your Rights!

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

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

Published in News
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 13:14

'Torture bill should protect sex workers'

By Regan Thaw, of Eyewitness News

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also experience violence during arrest.

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

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

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

Published in News

At the National Sex Work Symposium: Best practices in HIV Prevention Care and Treatment for Sex Workers in South Africa, the Women’s Legal Centre (“WLC”), Sisonke and the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (“SWEAT”) released a report which finds that police officers in South Africa are the main violators of sex workers’ human rights.

“Stop Harassing Us! Tackle Real Crime!: A report on Human Rights Violations By Police Against Sex Workers In South Africa” draws on the views and voices of more than 300 sex workers in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Limpopo.

“The human rights abuses of sex workers in South Africa is alarming and demands immediate attention” says Stacey-Leigh Manoek, an attorney at the WLC and author of the report. This research shows that the existing legal framework is unacceptably liable to police discretion and encourages police corruption and abuse.

Sex workers said that when they are arrested by the police they are often assaulted, pepper sprayed, bribed and sexually assaulted. Almost 1 in 6 sex workers who approached WLC experienced physical or sexual assault by the police. A female sex worker from Cape Town said “The coloured police officer grabbed me, and my clothes came off. Then they pepper sprayed me in my mouth and beat me”.

Police abuse of sex workers in South Africa is systemic and widespread. Of the 308 sex workers interviewed for this study, 70 percent experienced some form of abuse at the hands of police. Many reported more than one violation. A sex worker from Johannesburg told us her story, “Then the policemen told me to go outside and stand in a line with the other women. When we got outside, one of the ladies said that we should run away from them. So we all started running. Then the policemen started shooting at us. They shot me twice with rubber bullets in my shoulder. But I kept running. I did not want to stop. Later I went to the clinic to bandage my wounds.”

Another sex worker in Cape Town recalled her sexual assault by the police, “A police officer unzipped his pants and put a condom on. I got a shock. They started speaking to me rudely. They told me that I must give each one of them a blow job (oral sex), which I did. He put me on the floor. The police officer raped me, then the second one, after that the third one did it again. I was crying after the three left without saying anything. Then the first one appeared again… He let me out by the back gate without my property. I was so scared that my family would find out.”

Police officers commit these crimes with impunity. They remove their name tags so that sex workers are unable to identify them and they instil such fear in the sex workers that they are afraid to report these crimes to the authorities. A sex worker in Cape Town said “One day I was standing on one of the corners, the police came and ask what I was doing there and who I am waiting for, then they put me in the van and told me that they are taking me to the police station, but instead they took me back off the street and wanted sexual favours, and both of them had no tame tags.”

138 sex workers reported being arrested, and only 21 appeared in court. Indicating that the pattern of arresting sex workers without the intention to prosecute is still prevalent. Manoek says that this practice “is a clear constitutional human rights violation of the right to defend oneself in court and not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s freedom.” Almost half of those who had been arrested where held beyond the 48 hours maximum period permitted by law and 70 percent said that while they were in detention they had been denied access to food or water.

The report makes recommendations to the South African government to decriminalise sex work. It also calls on Chapter 9 institutions such as the Commission for Gender Equality to investigate the human rights abuses that sex workers experience. It also calls on civil society organisations to support the call for decriminalisation and to meaningfully include sex workers in their work.

SWEAT’s advocacy officer Ntokozo Yingwana says that “in order to address this human rights crisis and the human rights violations that sex workers experience, South Africa should decriminalise the selling and buying of sex and the system should be reformed to bring the treatment of sex workers in line with our constitutional and international obligations to reduce this type of abuse.”

“Sex work should be decriminalised now! The South African Law Reform commission has been sitting on this matter for the past ten years and they keep on postponing the time when they will release their report. This gives us the impression that this matter is of no importance to them. This democracy is failing us”, says Kholi Buthelezi, national coordinator Sisonke- the only sex worker led movement in South Africa.

[This news article was sourced from the Women's Legal Centre website: http://www.wlce.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=151:a-report-on-human-rights-violations-by-police-against-sex-workers-in-south-africa-&catid=55:press-releases&Itemid=83]

Published in Research

By Ayanda Mkhwanazi, Health-e

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in News

By Salimah Ebrahim, Reuters

As the world's largest AIDS conference kicks off in the United States for the first time in 22 years, activists want to ensure the voice of sex workers is not silenced in the discussion of how to overcome the global epidemic.

As many as 20,000 people -- including top scientists, politicians and celebrities -- are expected to attend the week-long International AIDS Conference in Washington, which began on Sunday. But while the United States lifted a travel ban on people infected with HIV in 2009, it has clung to a prohibition on the entry of foreign sex workers established more than two centuries ago.

Activists, and some conference officials, say that runs counter to a goal of achieving an end to the epidemic that affects more than 34 million people worldwide. On Sunday, a group of sex-worker activists carrying red umbrellas and noise-making vuvuzelas crashed the AIDS gathering's kick-off news conference.

Other events planned for the week include a protest in front of the White House on Tuesday and daily live video link-ups with the Sex Worker Freedom Festival -- an alternative satellite event taking place in Kolkata, India, in response to the exclusion from Washington of foreign sex workers.

Along with drug users and men who have sex with men, sex workers make up three of the most critically affected, yet often isolated populations affected by HIV/AIDS.

"I don't know how we're going to ever see an end to AIDS in our lifetime -- and we believe we can, especially with scientific advances -- and have an AIDS-free generation, without including all of those populations who must be involved as part of this solution," said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California.

Lee was instrumental in lifting the travel ban on human immunodeficiency virus patients and last week introduced a proposed law in the House of Representatives to do the same for sex workers.

A landmark study published earlier this year in the Lancet Journal of Infectious Diseases showed that sex workers' risk of HIV infection is 14 times higher than the general population. They also play a role in the global transmission of the disease.

In Asia, for example, home to an estimated 10 million sex workers, "men who buy sex are the single-most powerful driving force" in that region's rising epidemic, according to the Commission on AIDS.

Michel Sidibe, executive director of the United Nations AIDS program, said it was "outrageous" that in 2012 "when we have everything to beat this epidemic, we still have to fight prejudice, stigma, discrimination, exclusion, criminalization."

He called for a new paradigm where the people most at risk -- including sex workers -- were placed at the center of the global response to HIV/AIDS.



LAW ENFORCEMENT VERSUS PUBLIC HEALTH

Meg, a former sex worker from Chicago who asked to have her last name withheld, is one of the few voices representing the female sex worker population at this year's conference.

She blames what she calls a "systematic exclusion" of sex workers from policy discussions by academics, reporters and lawmakers for prevailing stereotypes of "people thinking of sex workers as vectors of diseases. "

Sienna Baskin, director of the Sex Workers Project of the nonprofit Urban Justice Center which provides legal and social services, said tackling infectious disease transmission in this population will require a much broader view of its role in society.

"To reduce HIV prevalence among sex workers, we have to look at this broader human rights framework," she said. "We need to create a better human rights situation overall for sex workers -- that's the only way we can get to this part of their lives -- HIV transmission."

In the conference host city of Washington, HIV infection rates are among the highest in the United States and have drawn comparison to sub-Saharan countries. A report released last week by Human Rights Watch suggested that police practices in the U.S. capital may even be fueling the HIV epidemic.

The report cited complaints from hundreds of sex workers in Washington and three other cities who say they were subjected to police threats, harassment and even arrests for carrying condoms. In many cases, police officers were said to be confiscating the same condoms distributed by city public health departments to prevent HIV transmission.

According to Megan McLemore, senior researcher on the Human Rights Watch report, the disconnect between law enforcement and public health shows that many have not recognized sex workers as allies in the fight to curb HIV infection.

"The public needs to be asked: ‘Is it more important that an individual person is charged with prostitution and convicted ... because there is a condom involved, or is it more important that the condom be protected from criminalization for HIV prevention?'" McLemore said. "That's the decision that has to be made by everyone at all of these levels."

[This news article was sourced from Reuters, Banned sex workers find sympathy from AIDS meeting organizers]

Published in News

By Festus Mogae and Stephen Lewis

In South Africa and across Africa, HIV continues to prey on women, sex workers and men who have sex with men. It is clear that to end the HIV epidemic, we must protect and support these groups.

Yet, our country and others enforce bad laws and customs that disempower these groups and make them more likely to be infected with HIV. We cannot hope for an HIV-free generation when we have laws that marginalize and punish those most vulnerable to the disease. A global commission of legal, human rights and HIV leaders recently released a report that shows punitive laws are standing in the way of effective AIDS responses.

Archaic laws and customs make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV. Legally condoned violence and oppression—including genital mutilation, sexual violence, denial of property rights and early marriage— undermine the ability of women to protect themselves. Laws urgently need to protect women, who are often the ones left to care for the sick, tend to the family and till the fields.

In addition, many countries have punitive laws that criminalize sex workers. However, these laws drive sex work underground and make sex workers more at risk for HIV. Police violence and the threat of arrest disempower sex workers, making them more vulnerable to abuse and HIV transmission. Many are unable to access prevention and care because of the stigma they face, even from health care workers. In contrast, sex workers who are not harassed by the police and who have access to services have lower HIV rates and more economic power.

Laws across the continent also criminalize homosexuality. Yet, punishing men who have sex with men force them into secrecy. They are unable to access counseling and testing, making it almost impossible for HIV prevention and treatment interventions to reach them. In 2008, when the Senegalese government jailed nine gay HIV outreach workers under a law prohibiting “acts against nature,” health workers went into hiding, advocacy groups disbanded and HIV treatment sites were shut down.

The time has come for African leaders to take action against bad laws that stifle our HIV response. We must challenge societal values rooted in fear and prejudice and implement laws based on human rights and sound public health.

This starts with recognizing the rights of women and decriminalizing homosexuality and voluntary sex work, which is vital to protecting the health and dignity of these groups. Voluntary sex work should not be confused with human trafficking, which remains an abhorrent human rights violation. Laws protecting women and children from trafficking must be vigorously enforced and strengthened.

Change will not come easy. It will require us to challenge tradition and deeply held personal values. It will mean confronting religious beliefs and antiquated practices that endanger our citizens. Leaders will face shock, anger and opposition. But change is essential if we hope to slow the spread of HIV. Many leaders have refused to confront this reality. Instead, they opt to hide behind religion and the veneer of morality.

But other leaders have demonstrated the courage needed to use laws as a powerful response to HIV. In May, Malawi President Joyce Banda announced she would make efforts to repeal Malawi’s laws that criminalize homosexual acts. "As leaders, especially in this part of the world (Africa), which is the epi-centre of the epidemic, we need to harness our efforts in confronting antiquated beliefs based on fear and misinformation that are codified in our laws and engraved in our cultures," said President Banda.

In 2010, Rwanda Secretary of Health Agnès Binagwaho called for human rights-based policies that empower sex workers to negotiate safe sex and protect their health. Botswana enacted a law in 2008 to protect survivors of domestic violence and another in 2004 to establish equality of spouses. In recent years, 8,000 communities across the world, including in 15 African countries, banned genital mutilation.

Leaders in South Africa and across Africa must embrace change and follow these examples. We have a tremendous opportunity to accelerate the end of HIV. We must reverse laws and practices that stand in the way of effective HIV responses and replicate those that protect the human rights and health of our citizens. Evidence-based, humane HIV responses will not only help shield us from HIV, they will also help build a more prosperous African continent. Africa’s leadership must boldly rise to the challenge. Together, we can turn the tide against HIV.

[[This event announcement was sourced from Link2Media: AIDS response must be guided by human rights and justice]

His Excellency Mr. Festus Gontebanye Mogae and Stephen Lewis are members of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. Mogae is the former president of Botswana. Lewis is the co-director and co-founder of AIDS-Free World and was formerly the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Published in News

Sex workers, who celebrated the International Sex Workers Rights Day, last week (2 March) in Windhoek, are demanding the legalization of prostitution, one of the oldest trade in the world.

Prostitution, however, remains illegal in Namibia and the Ombudsman, John Walters, who was invited by sex workers, said that when prostitution will be legalized in the country. “For the first time the International Sex Workers Rights Day was celebrated in Namibia, but sex work and prostitution are still not legal in Namibia.”

He says he’s not against sex workers, adding; “Namibia is a free independent country and each individual has his/her own choice to do what they want to do with their life.”

The sex workers made use of the opportunity to express the difficulties they are facing. Scholastica Goagoses, Director of The Red Umbrella, an organization advocating for sex workers’ rights, says as a human being she doesn’t understand why her job cannot be legalized in Namibia. “Sex work is already legalized in many other countries in the world. If it becomes legal we won’t be treated with so much discrimination and hate from the public. We are beaten up by our clients, sometimes we are not paid for the job that was successfully done and the public call us bad names and they talk unpleasant things about us behind our backs.”

Nikodemus Auchomub (known as Mama Africa), a transgender sex worker and director of Rights Not Rescue Namibia, says that he has always been living and working on the street. “I went from a street kid to a sex worker. Namibia’s Founding President, diplomats and freedom Fighter told the police to arrest sex workers and to chase them away if they see them looking for clients. Mr. President, we sex workers are also human and children of this world. Let us stop violence and discrimination against sex workers.”

“We sex workers are denied our rights. They say vote for us for a better independent country, but when we vote and raise our voices about human rights violations, no one listens. They don’t deliver on their promises. It is all lies!” says Auchomub.

Mamma Africa also revealed that a few years back when he was in police custody he was assaulted and sexually abused by a certain group of Police officers.

Tomas Lopez from the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA), who researched the sex workers in Namibia, says there are no accurate numbers of sex workers in the country, but claims that records indicate that there are about 5000 sex workers in Windhoek and 1200 in Katutura alone. He further says that 90 percent of sex workers in Windhoek are female between the age groups of 19 and 30.

During the event, three books related to sex work in Namibia were launched. The books are Sex work, HIV and Access to Health Services in Namibia, Sex Work and HIV in Namibia and Sex Work and HIV-Reality on the Ground.

Prostitution in Namibia is illegal, but remains a very common practice.

[This news article was sourced from Informanté: Sex workers demand legalization of prostitution]

Published in News
Thursday, 08 March 2012 11:12

Cop got laid but never paid!

By Zama Khumalo, Daily Sun

Photo: Prostitutes took to the streets to protest against police harassment.

There is an ongoing crisis for prostitutes who are often manipulated into having sex by police to avoid arrests.

That’s one of the stories told by an abused woman on Saturday, which was International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

The ladies of the night marched against police harassment across the country.

Sex worker Ayanda Mbangi (36) told Daily Sun that she was forced to have sex with those who were supposed to protect her.

It was 16 August last year when she was standing at the corner of Mooi and Albert streets in Joburg with other prostitutes when the cops arrived. The others managed to get away but she was left behind to face the cops on her own.

“I couldn’t run because of a hip and ankle injury I sustained in a car accident in 2009. They threatened to arrest me for selling sex in a public area. They then drove around with me and asked how much I charged for a session.

“I told them my asking price was between R25 and R30. I became suspicious when one of them kept asking about my job.

“He told me that he hadn’t been with a woman for three weeks. While pushing up my skirt, he tore my underwear and told me to treat him like a client. When he was done, he kicked me out of the car and told me he wasn’t going to arrest me,” said Ayanda.



Prostitutes march through Mzansi cities

Prostitutes marched on cop shops in big Mzansi cities on Saturday to protest against police harassment.

This was on International Sex Workers Rights Day.

In a memorandum handed over to station commanders, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy taskforce said:

“The police arrest and detain us without charges and without the intention of prosecuting us.”

Wearing masks and waving placards describing their suffering, they called for urgent action on their complaints.

“Our rights are being violated for doing work that supports our families,” they said.

The prostitutes also called on the government to stop treating their work as crime.

“Should sex work be decriminalised, then we would be able to work hand in hand with the police in combating crimes such as human trafficking,” said Sisonke national co-ordinator Kholi Buthelezi.

Central Joburg Police Station Commander Ronnie Rajin said he was prepared to meet the prostitutes to discuss their complaints against cops.

Provincial police commissioners in the provinces are expected to respond to the charges.

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



Here are more photos of the Johannesburg Central Police Station march, taken by Hoosain Khan, of Wits University:

Published in News

By Vuvu Vena, Daily Dispatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Published in News
Wednesday, 07 March 2012 08:49

Kenya prostitutes march the streets

A group of masked male and female prostitutes marched the streets of the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Tuesday, demanding the legalisation of their trade.

Under red umbrellas and in red T-shirts, the protesters bore masks saying: "sex workers rights are human rights," and "my body, my business".

"Today we are hiding because of stigma and discrimination, because sex is our business," said one protester who gave his name only as John.

"It is only a matter of time before sex workers are decriminalised. It is not a matter of if, but when," said Peninah Mwangi, another demonstrator.

Prostitution is illegal in Kenya, but last month the Nairobi mayor suggested the practice be legalised at designated zones, sparking harsh criticism.

"We are ready to pay taxes. We would love to see sex work made legal. Sex workers are workers like any other and not criminals," said John Mathenge, the national co-ordinator of the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance.

He said they were ready for talks with the government on how their rights could be guaranteed.

[This news article was originally sourced from News24: Kenya prostitutes march the streets ]

Published in News
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