Sex Act 'victimises prostitutes'

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

Criminalising prostitution will make prostitutes more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, advocacy groups said yesterday.

The Sexual Offences Amendment Act, which came into effect on Monday, criminalises prostitution and soliciting sex.

"The act will only succeed in driving the industry further underground," said Nicole Fick, a researcher of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (Sweat).

Sweat is a nonprofit organisation that looks after the health and human rights of prostitutes and advocates for the decriminalisation of prostitution.

The law makes it illegal for clients to pay for sexual services. Fick said this would make prostitutes more vulnerable to exploitation.

"It removes one more source of protection for prostitutes because it is often clients who abuse and exploit [sex workers]."

The legislation prohibits "engaging in sexual services of persons 18 years old for financial or other reward, favour and compensation".

Fick said it would be "difficult, if not impossible" for the state to prosecute because it would have to prove that "money changed hands" and a sexual act had occurred.

Wendy Isaacs, legal adviser at People Opposing Women Abuse, said making prostitution illegal would "further victimise sex workers" and "does not solve the root of the problem".

The legislation employs a "gender neutral" definition of rape that now includes sodomy, consensual sex under coercive circumstances and forced penetration in other orifices of the body using foreign objects.

The "flashing" of body parts to children, forcing children to witness to take part in sexual acts and the exposure and display of pornography is also prohibited under the new law.

It also provides for rape victims to have access to post-exposure prophylaxis, short-term anti- retroviral treatment that reduces HIV infection, new investigative tools for sexual offences and the adoption of a national policy framework to regulate the act.