'Pleasure executives' brief MPs

2013-05-24 22:11
Parliament (Picture: Sapa)

Parliament (Picture: Sapa)

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Cape Town - MPs should join other respected local and international groups to push for the decriminalisation of prostitution, rights activists told Parliament's joint committee on HIV/Aids on Friday.

The committee met prostitutes to gauge their views on how to prevent the high level of HIV infection.

"The most important thing as MPs is that whatever is done in South Africa [that] doesn't threaten the security of South Africa, prolongs the life of South Africans.

"If everything goes against that, that's where we have to make laws to ensure that doesn't happen," committee chairperson Bevan Goqwana said.

He stopped short of supporting a move for decriminalising the profession.

Prostitutes like Nomad Gallant gave MPs an insight into their lives.

Gallant explained he had no alternative to becoming a sex worker, and warned MPs that examining why people became prostitutes was not as important as ensuring their constitutional rights to access to basic services, particularly health care, were dealt with.

"It won't make any difference if I say today I wish I was a member of the Parliament who's sorted out, who drives a nice car, who has money so I didn't have to be a sex worker, because that's not going to help me," said Gallant.

Gallant said he came from a poor background and chose prostitution for survival.

"All I know is at the time of being distraught... there wasn't a flag or a neon light that said, hey little boy, come this way, we'll give you lots of funds, we'll give you a house, we'll give you a car."

Gallant now made a decent living and was able to feed, house and clothe himself from his earnings.

"Sometimes you do have things you can do... hustle and sell on the corner with fruit... when you really don't have anything, and you look around you and you find that maybe you do have something, be it your looks, good performance and you're good with sex; you know what, at least I've got a place to sleep, I've got a R500 in my pocket.. and I can buy myself a loaf of bread."


Transgender prostitute Ricardo Saayman told a similar tale.

"The stigma and embarrassment we have to go thorough in the health care systems is for no eyes [to see] and no ears to hear.

"Honourable member[s], you are not there when they [health care workers] make you so small and take the last shred of dignity away from you in front of a whole community... from reception to the doctor, there's so much shame and blame put on your name," Saayman said.

The Constitution guaranteed him the right to dignity, freedom and choice, but it was something he rarely encountered in communities and government institutions -- especially clinics and hospitals.

"If you come to the health care service, [they assume[ you only come for Aids, it's not TB, there's no flu, you're not coming for an injection or whatever, because you're a 'moffie'... but they forget you're a human too," said Saayman.

Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) director Sally Shackleton said the only solution was decriminalisation.

"The Commission for Gender Equality just last week released a policy paper in support of decriminalisation. Cosatu has a resolution in support of decriminalisation.

"The WHO [World Health Organisation] in December released a policy brief that also recommended that states decriminalise sex work in order to address HIV and poor public health."

While countries like New Zealand had already gone the decriminalisation route, Shackleton said the South African environment was different, in that it had higher levels of HIV infection and poverty.

A South African model of decriminalisation needed to be found.

Some MPs battled over which term to use to describe prostitutes.

Most went with sex workers, while one described them as "pleasure executives".

It was not clear whether MPs are leaning in the direction of decriminalisation, but they acknowledged the fact that sex work had become hidden because it was a criminal offence.

"This criminal part of it, that's what made it to go underground and they say if you don't know something, you are not going to be able to treat it because we don't know how big the problem is.

"It's very difficult as a doctor as I can't treat something I don't know, because without a diagnosis I can't treat that person," said Goqwana.

According to Sweat, 60% of female sex workers in South Africa were HIV positive.

It was estimated that 20% of all new HIV infections occurred among prostitutes.

Read more on:    legislation  |  parliament 2013  |  hiv aids

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