city to defy hooker order

Joel Avni

Joel Avni

Cape Town will press ahead with plans to round-up, prosecute and fine sexworkers plying their trade on the city's streets despite a court order preventing police from arresting streetwalkers.

The Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) "scored an own goal" by interdicting police and the city from arresting sexworkers, councillor Jean-Pierre Smith said yesterday.

Smith, chairman of the city's safety and security committee, said the interdict that Judge Burton Fourie granted on Monday only prevented police from arresting sexworkers the officers knew were unlikely to be prosecuted.

He said the city would appeal the judgment and would now get its house in order by training officers how to charge and prosecute streetwalkers, using municipal by-laws and courts.

Sweat proved to the court that few sexworkers have been prosecuted over the past few years. Many testified that they had been arrested several times but had never been charged.

The judge found that police were merely harassing the streetwalkers by jailing them overnight, knowing they would not be prosecuted, which contravened their constitutionally guaranteed human rights.

"The inaction of the national prosecuting authority has undermined the city's programme to reduce crime and has serious implications for the functioning of our criminal justice system," Smith said.

"We are trying to discourage an industry that is linked to abuse of women, HIV-Aids transmission, human trafficking and other criminal activity.

"The city has found a link between sex work and an increase in other criminal activities in an area."

The city wants to appeal the interdict, and will soon meet police and prosecutors to discuss how to handle the arrest and prosecution of sexworkers.

The SAPS might join the appeal against the interdict, said Senior Superintendent Billy Jones.

NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali defended prosecutors who he said applied the same criteria when deciding on whether to take any case to court.

"If prosecutors are not convinced on the basis of the evidence in the docket that we can win a case, we won't take it to court," he said.

"Maybe the NPA and the police must interact to establish standards of evidence."

Tlali said cases involving prostitution had not been easy to prosecute.

"There must be evidence that sex was offered in exchange for reward. This is almost always lacking.

"It is only in those instances where other investigative techniques are employed that evidence could be available to show that sex took place or was about to take place in exchange for some reward.

"Those persons suspected to be sex workers who are seen conducting themselves in a manner that does not enjoy approval, parade themselves and dress in a manner that causes some discomfort before the eyes of certain people, could be considered as violating other laws and even [municipal] by-laws.

"An act of parading oneself and dressed somewhat inappropriately does not and is not enough for them to be charged with the crime of prostitution."

Smith conceded that officers had often failed to prepare substantive cases. The city would meet prosecutors to discuss what evidence needed to be presented and officers would then be properly trained.

"It forces the SAPS, the city and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions to get their house in order," he said.

Smith said the city would meanwhile start fining sexworkers under city by-laws.

"If sexworkers are fined R1500 two or three times a night they will find there are more penalties than benefits to their trade."

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