Should prostitution be legal?

2008-09-02 00:00


M. S. Saeed

Prostitution is an extreme form of coercion. It is also against the laws of every religion, the rights of women and is inconsistent with universal values and human rights.

Prostitution, “the oldest profession on Earth”, is a phenomenon based on the satisfying of lust by the man and “earning” money by the woman, through need or greed. The “sex trade” generally targets young women — girls in their teenage years — and poverty-stricken women. Prostitution basically involves women being used by men and this spreads an intolerable view of human beings in that they can be bought and used as commodities.

Most of the women who enter into prostitution often have a painful start to life or are in search of money to escape poverty. In order to overcome or swallow the abuse of the mind and body, prostitutes use drugs and alcohol to overcome the guilt and loss of their respect and integrity. The culprit, the man, gets away with just a monetary loss.

Prostitution should not be legalised, nor should it be regarded as “employment” or work as it severely lacks the necessary basic conditions of work, such as dignity, safety and social fairness.

Concern for the safety of the women is often cited for legalising prostitution. In legalising prostitution, policymakers are endangering the lives of women even further.

Prostitution causes chronic trauma to the soul, body and mind. Women in prostitution suffer the same injuries that women subjected to other forms of violence undergo. Women who survive the mental, emotional and physical abuse could possibly end up with severe depression and diseases. Most survivors of prostitution report that each time they engaged in prostitution it felt like rape. In this regard, laws should be implemented to assist and rehabilitate victims.

Legalisation means that, under certain conditions, it is legal and acceptable to oppress and abuse women. By legalising prostitution, a definite segment of each generation of young women will be destroyed.

Countries that have legalised prostitution are now facing new and more serious problems. They have discovered that the crimes that legislation was believed to alleviate or solve have in fact increased, such as child prostitution, human trafficking, slavery and drugs.

Every religion recognises the value of sex and therefore encourages marriage. Families are the fabric of society and prostitution destroys families, causes pain to the wife, deprives children of quality time and increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Hard-earned money that should be spent on the family is spent on prostitutes and marriages break up.

Taking into consideration that every religion is against prostitution and the documented harm to women who are prostituted, it is only sensible not to allow prostitution to be legalised.

Instead of legalising prostitution, men should be educated about the harm prostitution can cause and more stringent punishment should be inflicted upon perpetrators and clients.

I urge every South African who believes in morality, values and the sanctity of marriage to support the initiative to keep prostitution illegal.


Vivienne Lalu

The discussion around decriminalising adult sex work remains fraught with controversy. The Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) — a sex worker health and human rights NGO — has been advocating for sex work to be decriminalised for many years. One of the consequences of the current criminalised status of sex work is that sex workers are unable to access labour rights.

This was clearly demonstrated in the Kylie case where a sex worker took her case of unfair dismissal to the labour court. In an interesting twist, the labour court found that Kylie was indeed an employee but was not entitled to labour rights enshrined in our laws because the work she does is illegal. Kylie’s lawyers have applied for this matter to go to the Constitutional Court. The Kylie case has thrown open the debate on whether sex work is indeed work.

Our research has certainly indicated that for the many people, mainly women, engaged in sex work it is their only form of income. In many instances, sex workers are supporting not only themselves, but their children and extended families.

Because of their criminal status, sex workers have found it exceedingly difficult to access services from the South African Police Service (SAPS). Many police officers do not believe that a sex worker can be raped and have blatantly refused to assist them when they arrive at police stations trying to open cases.

This situation is further exacerbated when the police themselves are the perpetrators of rape, assault and extortion of sex workers. This was recently highlighted in Johannesburg where sex workers were brutally assaulted and a sex worker was raped by police officers. A few weeks after this incident, police in Cape Town refused to open a case of rape when they discovered that the woman was a sex worker.

SWEAT has supported countless sex workers in taking their complaints to the ICD (Internal Complaints Directorate) or SAPS Internal Investigations Unit, but with very little success.

Furthermore, sex workers face ongoing arrests under vague municipal bylaws where they are, according to our information, never charged and never appear before a magistrate. Sex workers face this discriminatory cycle of arrest and release on a daily basis without any recourse to the law.

Again, sex workers have turned to the courts for some relief in this regard. A group of sex workers has filed a petition against the Minister of Safety and Security, Cape Town police and various station commanders. Their case will be heard in the Cape High Court in March 2009.

The ultimate aim of the criminalisation of sex work is the eradication of sex work in its totality. Thus far criminalisation has failed to stop people engaging in sex work and, after 20 years of criminalising the industry, the impact these laws have had on the eradication of sex work is minimal.

Criminalising the industry has, however, resulted in severely limiting sex workers’ access to basic human rights. Depriving sex workers of their human rights should not be used as a strategy to prevent people from entering the sex industry.

Decriminalising adult sex work will remove one of the biggest obstacles preventing sex workers from accessing their rights.

• Vivienne Lalu is the advocacy programme co-ordinator for SWEAT (the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce).

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