When Akona Magau* walked into the Johannesburg Central police station yesterday, she was hoping the police would help her.
After all, she had come to report that she had been raped there on Friday night. She expected to get a sympathetic ear.
But a few hours later a tearful Magau, 24, left frustrated because the cops on duty refused to open a case against one of their own, claiming that she had consented to sex.
Magau, a prostitute in Hillbrow, refutes this claim.
She says she and seven other prostitutes were working along President and Mooi streets in the Johannesburg CBD at 10pm on Friday when they were rounded up by 10 police officers.
They were taken to Johannesburg Central, where she alleges they were beaten up.
The officers demanded money in exchange for their release. Those who did not have at least R100 or more were allegedly sjambokked, punched, kicked and sworn at.
Magau says she was repeatedly raped by an officer because she didn't have the required amount.
"I told him I had only R30," Magau says. "I couldn't afford to pay the bribe because I'd had a rough week and did not make enough money. He told me the money was not enough and raped me." .
Sowetan spoke to the other prostitutes yesterday in Hillbrow and the Johannesburg CBD. They showed us bad bruises and scars all over their bodies, which they said were as a result of police brutality.
They could not identify the officers because none of them wore their police badges.
Police spokesman Inspector Richard Monyai yesterday blasted the police who allegedly refused to open a rape case.
"What they are said to have done is unacceptable," Monyai said. "Magau should take her case to the charge office commander."
Another prostitute, Zodwa Zondi*, 38, also claims she was raped by a policeman.
She had been too scared to report the policeman, who followed her to her flat for a month and raped her. She knew the police would do nothing.
The prostitutes say they were now more afraid to work at night, especially on Fridays, because the beatings by the police have increased.
"They think that just because we are prostitutes we don't have rights," Zondi says.
They accuse the police of coming into their rooms on Friday nights. They break down the doors if they are refused entry.
"They arrest us even when we go to the shops.
"At the police station they don't charge us but instead humiliate us by making us take off our clothes in full view of all other cops."
Vivienne Lalu of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) says: "This behaviour is unacceptable. It is a clear abuse of power.
"Sweat is not surprised since there is a perpetual abuse of sexworkers, some of whom are raped by police."
* Not their real names.