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What will the police do about the expected surge in prostitution for the 2010 World Cup? It's a highly charged issue likely to cause huge rifts in our society in the run-up to the tournament, writes Waghied Misbach

By unknown | Mar 30, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

National police commissioner Jackie Selebi raised an explosive question in parliament this week: Should the police turn a blind eye to prostitution during the 2010 Soccer World Cup?

He drew comparisons with German cities, where the trade was "controlled" during the World Cup tournament last year.

He said his dilemma was this: if he starts arresting people from among the millions of fans following the World Cup games, where is he going to put them?

It's a good question, considering the overcrowding in prisons and the pressure on the justice system.

But there is an important difference between Germany and South Africa that Selebi did not mention: Germany legalised prostitution in 2002. Selebi did tell MPs that it is still illegal in this country.

But Selebi's question raised other crucial issues. Let's say the police turn a blind eye, would that not encourage further exploitation of prostitutes?

There is much evidence of many women being forced into prostitution in this country.

And what about the drugs trade, which is inextricably linked to the sex industry? Does ignoring the sale of sex mean the cops will also ignore other illegal activities when a sex transaction takes place? And what about the trafficking of men, children and women into the sex trade from other countries? And the possibility that there will be an increase in sexually transmitted diseases?

With prostitution illegal, South African cities certainly cannot follow the German route. A massive brothel was set up close to Berlin's Olympic Stadium. The Artemis is reportedly a four-storey building able to accommodate 600 customers.

Media reports indicated that there were also "sex huts" and "cabins of service". Hoods, showers and car parks were at the disposal of clients to protect their identity.

But the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, Kenneth Meshoe, has rejected legalising prostitution, arguing that the "cost to families" would be unimaginable. He called on the police to do their work.

But Nicolé Fick, a researcher for the Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), said the way the Germans approached the issue "makes a lot of sense".

Sweat works with prostitutes in the Cape, educating them about sexual health and their rights. The organisation wants prostitution to be legalised.

"The Germans created a safe space with reasonable lighting and security. But we want the industry to be decriminalised and [prostitution] seen as a job."

She said the police were not using the Sexual Offences Act of 1957 to tackle the sex industry. They were using instead municipal by-laws on loitering and public nuisance to "harass" prostitutes.

The only way the cops can get a conviction through the Sexual Offences Act is to prove that money was paid for sex - and they are too lazy to do that, said Fick.

Parliament and the government have yet to change the law despite working on amending it since 2002, she said.

Sweat is opposed to trafficking or forcing people into prostitution.

"The only way we will know if people are forced is if the industry is legalised," Fick argued. She claimed there was little or no trafficking in Germany last year.

But a search on the Internet found that a UN report issued in April showed that Germany was one of the top destinations for trafficking women, most of them aged between 18 and 25, from Russia, Bulgaria and the Ukraine.

Kubi Rama, chief executive officer of the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network (Gemsa), said focusing only on prostitution during the World Cup would be "bizarre".

Legalising prostitution would be the answer, she said.

"Women are most of the workers in this industry and do not have any of the workers' rights that those in other industries enjoy. This exposes them to many forms of abuse, including physical and economic, with little or no recourse to the law.

"The notion that commercial sex work should be legalised only for 2010 is completely bizarre. There has been fierce opposition to legalising commercial sex work at every other time - what makes it okay now?

"Are commercial sex workers being offered as part of a 2010 tourist package?

"What dangers will such a proposal expose commercial sex workers to, and what protection will be put in place?

"We need to respect the rights of commercial sex workers at all times, not exploit them just because it is in the interests of 2010 or the Olympics or the Cricket World Cup."

Rama argued that, for many women, commercial sex work was the only way of making a living. Legalising it was important to respecting their rights as citizens.

Selebi has opened up a can of worms likely to generate much heat in the run-up to soccer's premier event.

The question is: are South Africans going to ignore the issue or will they come up with a usable plan?


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