The decomposed bodies of six women, four of whom were identified as sex workers, were recently… discovers in a panel shop in Johannesburg. A 20-year-old man is charged with six murders. The case once again highlights the risks of sex work for women in South Africa.
It also puts the spotlight on the regulation of sex work. As commissioner for the Commission on Gender EqualityI was involved in drafting her 2013 position paper on sex work: Decriminalizing sex work in South Africa.
There are several ways to regulate sex work. These include criminalization, legalization, partial decriminalization and decriminalization. Sex work is a crime in South Africa, which means that all sex work done on the streets or in brothels is illegal and controlled as such.
This makes it extra difficult for sex workers who operate on the street to be safe. They fear being arrested by the police, often forcing them into unsafe areas where customers are free to abuse them. They are also vulnerable to police abuse.
Like the Commission on Gender Equality, I also support decriminalisation. That would, among other things, reduce some of the risks sex workers face because their work in the country is considered a crime. They are exposed to physical violence, the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies, police brutality, mental anguish and even death. Decriminalization means that sex workers can choose where they want to work, without fear of arrest. intimidation and stigmatization by the police.
These laws were revised several years ago by the South African Law Reform Commissiona permanent body investigating legal reforms, established under Act 19 of 1973. To be report 2015 called for the continued criminalization of sex work to prevent people from “consciously living off the earnings of prostitution (and) profiting from another person’s prostitution.”
It also recommended the continued use of public ordinances to address the “nuisance” of “prostitutes”. The report refutes the argument that poverty is one of the reasons people engage in sex work. The report said women would rather seek social assistance.
But this is not a viable option. Given the country’s very high poverty and unemployment rate, government resources to support poor women are scarce. almost 47% of South Africans now depend on government subsidies.
The amalgamation of sex work with human trafficking contributes to the support for the further criminalization of sex work. But not all sex work is forced and not all sex workers are trafficked. Women are often driven into sex work because of economic needs and rising cost of livingand some women choose to do sex work.
But they also run great risks. So, what are the alternatives?
Elsewhere, legislation makes sex work legal under certain conditions, such as regular medical checkups, licensing and registration as a form of state control of sex workers. For example, sex work is legal in the The Netherlands and in some jurisdictions in Australia, Germany and Nevada in the U.S. Some African countries have a combination of legality and illegality. Legalization still doesn’t offer the wider freedom of decriminalization, which will curb stigma by making sex work just like any other job.
Partial decriminalization does not criminalize the sex worker – their clients are. In other words, the buyer of the service can be arrested, but not the seller. This is called the Swedish model because it was first used here in 1999. While this may sound like a good idea, it actually makes sex workers more vulnerable because it drives their work underground. It creates a lack of trust between the sex worker and the client, reduces her bargaining power and hinders her ability to negotiate safe sex.
Sex workers on Sweden’s streets have reported harsher conditions since partial decriminalization was introduced greater stigma and discrimination.
The position of the South African Commission for Gender Equality mentioned above calls for decriminalisation. This means repealing all laws against sex work and removing provisions criminalizing all aspects of sex work.
The difference between legalization and decriminalization is that decriminalization is not accompanied by state-imposed regulations specific to sex work. Instead, the industry is regulated by existing statutes and regulations, especially labor law.
Sex work is recognized as a legitimate business and subject to conventional labor and health regulations. Sex workers will therefore have the same rights as other workers and will also have the responsibility to pay taxes.
In her timely 2022 book Police Bodies – Law, Sex Work and Desire in Johannesburg, Lawyer India Thusis advocates decriminalization. She clearly shows the complexity of relationships between sex workers and law enforcement, and how criminalizing sex work is counterproductive.
Look forward to something
In February 2022, South Africa’s deputy justice minister, John Jeffery, announced further consultations on the Law Reform Commission report. He said there was a need for a “full dialogue” with all stakeholders – including public authorities – on the proposed policy options and their implications, given the diversity of views, although public hearings on sex work had already taken place.
The six women whose bodies were found in Johannesburg deserved protection, support, and the right to do their jobs safely. Decriminalization would be a powerful step toward honoring their memories – and protecting other sex workers.
Time to shift the discussion about sex work
Quote: Murder of sex workers in Johannesburg shows why South Africa urgently needs to decriminalize trade (2022, October 19), retrieved October 19, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-johannesburg-sex-workers- south africa. html
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