Sex workers march against Glenwood residents

2014-03-06 00:00

SEX workers staged a march in Durban this week to protest against Glenwood residents, who they claimed had used pepper spray and paintball pellets on them to force them out of the area.

Advocacy group Sisonke Sex Workers Movement organised the march.

The group’s provincial co-ordinator, Thuli Khoza, said there had been numerous pleas for the protection of sex workers, but the pleas fell on deaf ears.

The police and residents in certain Durban suburbs were also slammed by both the sex workers and the advocacy group during the march.

The Umbilo and Glenwood community have been chasing prostitutes away from their suburbs by using pepper spray and paintball guns to achieve this goal, Khoza said.

Other grievances were that police often harassed and demanded bribes from sex workers. Rape was also a concern, while clients were said to be abusing sex workers.

“Where do we report these offences? If we go to law enforcers we might get arrested or even further harassed by the police. If the profession is decriminalised, our safety and what we earn would be protected,” said a sex worker.

The organisation called on the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ) to ensure that sex workers’ human rights and dignity were respected and protected as enshrined in the Constitution.

During Tuesday’s march to mark the International Human Rights Day for Sex Workers, the group handed over a list of grievances to Mabel Ramela, acting head of the provincial DoJ. They gave her 14 days to provide feedback to the group.

“Now, in commemoration of the Human Rights Day for Sex Workers, we are saying to government sex workers are also human beings whose rights are enshrined in the Constitution. Sex workers don’t feel comfortable to go to healthcare facilities in their areas.

“For those who stay in hotels and other establishments in the hospitality industry, it is difficulty to open bank accounts because addresses of these establishments are not accepted. This came up from a number of workshops we have held,” said Khoza.

In a previous article where such issues were raised, chairperson of the Bulwer Community Safety Forum, Heather Rorick, said she was “outraged” to be blamed “for any physical abuse” of sex workers by forum members.

“Many of us have been threatened by the sex workers themselves or their pimps but we do not allow any type of weapon against these sex workers and are furious over the accusations levelled at us.” She said the forum was not the only group that does patrols and residents had formed “their own little groups and go out”.

Eric Cotton of the Glenwood Community Watch said it was “the first I’ve heard” of pepper spray being used on sex workers. “If any of my members have been doing that they will be disciplined.”

Ramela could not be reached for comment. Justice spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said all the concerns will be referred to the relevant units in the department. “The department’s crime prevention and security clusters will deal with the concerns once they are received,” said Mhaga. He said people should, however, remember that sex work is illegal in the country.

“That is why they get arrested. If sex workers have problems with how they are treated by the police, then they should raise the issue with the provincial police commissioner.”

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