Prostitution: Criminalise‚ decriminalise or regulate?

A dialogue day in Johannesburg touched on the various aspects of prostitution legalisation and the plight of people working in the trade.

A 25-year-old sex worker in Johannesburg‚ who is a member of Oasis‚ says that prostitution should be decriminalised.

The woman spoke to TimesLIVE during a Thought Leadership dialogue by the city’s public safety department in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Thursday morning at its main campus‚ Auckland Park Kingsway.

“I was harassed by two police officers in Joburg. I think it was around 2015. They searched my bag and found condoms. I would not tell them that I was a sex worker so they used the condoms as evidence. They beat me up‚ threatened me and they forced sex with me. It was traumatising. I am a mother of one kid I left at home. They both raped me and when I went to report it at Johannesburg central police station I was kicked out and laughed at‚” said the woman‚ who was not named to protect her dignity.

She said that just as much as she is an immigrant‚ she is a mother and a human being that deserves to be treated equally.

“I’m an immigration sex worker so I am most vulnerable. Police rape us and they steal our money. I was never taken to school in order to be able to take of myself. They (the police) do it all the time. I have a five-year-old son and with this job I survive. I am able to look after him and take care of myself too. I can’t even try to go to school because of my documentation challenges. [Prostitution] has to be decriminalised. We have to be given a chance to do this freely‚” she said.

The woman has been in the industry for more than three years.

Asked whether she was coping with the challenges she faces in her work she said: “I am used to it. Clients sometimes don’t pay‚ they overpower us. And the police abuse us. The public think we are dirty and stuff. I don’t enjoy my work. If I could I would stop‚” she said.

MMC for public safety Michael Sun said the city has no stand on whether prostitution should be decriminalised.

“We condemn any harassment on anyone. Harassment of anybody by police or any law enforcement is not acceptable. I would like to urge anyone experiencing such treatment to report it to us‚” Sun said.

Asked whether he was in support of any suggested model Sun said‚ “We as the city don’t have a position on this.

“We are very mindful of what is being said. The views of the academics. Views of the people in the industry‚ if I can put it that way‚ are important. As residents of the city we need to understand eachothers’ needs. Is this really a career or a work opportunity by choice? Is it really a choice? How do we best protect this group or community?” Sun said.

The thought-provoking discussion sought to advise the city on what recourse to take in regards to prostitution. Academics shared their thoughts on the topic.

An advocate of the High Court of South Africa‚ Dellene Clark‚ said that there are currently no robust laws and programmes in place to fight prostitution and its effects.

“Using the term ‘sex work’ equates to decriminalisation. People who sell sexual benefits for rewards are vulnerable. Drivers of prostitution are sexual violence‚ a family unit breakdown and exploitation by authorities‚” said Clark.

Clark asked whether prostitution is work or exploitation.

According to Clark‚ concepts such as blessers and ‘amavuso’ should be investigated and condemned with the seriousness it deserves.

“A lot of women enter sex work to escape the bigger picture. Sex work is not just about intercourse. Sex workers provide comfort to their clients‚ sometimes it’s just for cuddling. It’s not just a sexual service. They become friends to those who have no one‚” said Nosipho Vadima‚ human rights and lobbying officer at empowerment organisation Sweat.

According to Mickey Meji‚ a former prostitute who is a member of EmbraceDignity‚ there should be partial criminalisation of the practice.

“Choice is when you have the power‚ the right and opportunity. Women and girls in prostitution suffer at the hands of their clients‚ pimps and law officers. I became what I became because my mother was a domestic worker‚ I had no choice. I’m against regulation but I am in favour of partial criminalisation‚” said Meji.

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