10 July 2013
Sex workers have been fighting to enjoy their right to dignity. For this to happen, they say, sex work has to be decriminalised. On the other hand, organisations opposed to human trafficking are also opposed to sex work. We spoke to representatives of both sides.
“Decriminalisation is the only way to begin lifting the stigma that fuels the spread of HIV among sex workers and clients,” says Ntokozo Yingwana, of the Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT). Yingwana’s argument is that it is not sex-work but the stigma and discrimination that sex workers have to endure that strips them of their dignity.
Embrace Dignity is an organisation that campaigns against human trafficking under the banner: “Prostitution is the oldest oppression, not the oldest profession.”
Kholiswa Tyiki, a media intern at the organisation, explained, “We don’t agree with the popular belief that people who are in prostitution get there by choice. Rather they get there because of limited choices. We advocate for legal reform to end prostitution and offer services and support to women seeking to exit prostitution while helping them embrace their dignity.”
A 32-year-old former sex worker who asked to remain anonymous said she became a sex worker in order to support her baby. “During the 2010 World Cup many sex workers were raped and some lost their lives because there is no form of protection from the law for sex workers and I could have easily lost mine. Nobody has a right to take a human life and for that reason I believe it should be decriminalised.”
Marlise Richter, a public health researcher with the International Centre for Reproductive Health, said:
[The] evidence shows that the decriminalisation of sex work would serve public health and individual sex worker health best. Criminalisation of any aspect of sex work, including partial criminalisation which Embrace Dignity advocates for, means that the sex industry is driven underground and sex workers and their clients away from health, social and legal services. Bringing sex work under labour law, and occupational health and safety laws, which a decriminalisation model entails, means that sex workers’ health can be protected and their human rights respected.
The World Health Organisations (WHO) recommends that all states decriminalise sex work. It then becomes easier to take action to protect sex workers from HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
The South African Sexual Offence Act says that sex work is illegal and the purchase of sex was added as an offence in a 2007 Amendment Act, which led to the South African Reform Commission receiving four proposals for the discussion about decriminalisation and criminalisation.
The reputable HIV information website, Averting AIDS states that sex workers usually have a high number of sexual partners and if they get infected with HIV they can easily pass it on to multiple clients.