Four government departments throw their weight behind decriminalisation of sex work

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At least four government departments have fully thrown their weight behind the decriminalisation of sex work; one of the oldest professions in the world. It’s believed that this would assist sex workers to access all government services and reduce their victimisation and exposure to violence.

The Sisonke Group is a sex-worker led non-profit organisation advocating for the decriminalisation of adult sex work in South Africa.

It is estimated that there are 156 000 sex workers in the country. However, Sisonke believes there are many more who remain silent due to the stigma and discrimination they may face if they disclose what they do for a living.

Sisonke National Co-Ordinator Kholi Buthelezi says they want sex work to be recognised like other jobs.

“Sex workers, as a result of criminalisation of sex work, are unable to access these basic labour rights, also to negotiate safer sex working conditions and working hours and reporting sexual harassment or challenging the unfair dismissal and are not likely to seek legal assistance. So this speaks about if sex work was to be decriminalised, we would be able to have access to labour and be recognised as workers within the country.”

EFF calls for the strengthening of legislation to deal with GBV and decriminalise sex work: 

Social development ‘failed sex workers’

The Department of Social Development has admitted that it has failed sex workers by not providing them with services such as counselling, safety and security and giving them other options to opt-out of sex work when they wish to do so.

Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, has committed to elevating sex workers’ issues.

“I want to commit that sex workers issues shall be elevated. We were supposed to reach 70 000 sex workers, we haven’t done that. We were supposed to make sure that more than 3 000 sex workers access PReP. As much as health provides PReP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), Social Development must make sure that HIV is prevented and PReP is part of HIV prevention. The figures are very low.”

Sex workers are unable to freely access care at health facilities. This is mainly believed to be due to the attitudes of health professionals towards their line of work.

Deputy Minister of Health, Doctor Joe Phaahla says research shows that the prevalence of HIV among sex workers is high.

“Past research and data indicated that the prevalence of HIV among sex workers is rather high at 54% and the incidence at 5.5%. This data is indeed very alarming. A study in Soweto found that 50 percent of sex workers had experienced some form of physical violence in the past 12 months. It is acknowledged that criminalisation of sex work in our country continues to compound the issues of violence as it makes it difficult for sex workers to report their mishandling, including assault to the police.”

The vulnerability of sex workers in South Africa: 

Police victimisation

Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) have been accused of victimising sex workers, taking bribes and demanding free sex in exchange for their freedom after arrest.

The Deputy Minister of Police, Cassel Mathale says this is unacceptable and those members should be reported and arrested.

“I fully support that decriminalisation is the way. I think this is the call that the sex workers themselves have made and these are deliberations and discussions taking place around decriminalisation. We fully support that because for us at the South African Police it will make our work easy. You know that once they say this is the law, anyone who acts contrary to the law, who breaks the law, we arrest as the police.”

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery has publicly supported the call for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa. His department is leading government’s efforts in the decriminalisation of sex work in the country.