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Kirsten Hornby
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Keeping Strip Clubs Accountable

28 January 2014, 12:49

Working in the Anti-Trafficking field has made me aware of a problem that NGOs, as well as the South African Police Force, are facing in combating Human Trafficking- a problem that may perhaps be solved by the enactment of simple legislation. I will start by outlining the problem and mentioning what the parameters for action are at the moment; and offer a solution that may be implementable. Of course, this is just a sketch of the idea and it would have to be handed over to people much more qualified and capable than myself to actually stand a chance of being implemented; but have a look and consider what a difference legislation such as this can make for women who are trapped in a world of sexual exploitation.

When we think about the illegal sex industry- a few types of businesses usually come to the forefront. Businesses that make profit from enticing men’s sexual desire in a venue where his behaviour that may follow will not be in the public eye. Now I’m not calling into question the legitimacy of such businesses; but what I am saying is that in this position, the clients of these businesses are very vulnerable to be enticed by the offer of sexual services; and therefore it would be reasonable to deduce that in some cases these businesses have given in to provide these services in a way that is discrete and very profitable.  This deduction is supported by the frequent reports and complaints made against such businesses by concerned members of the public. These reports have often contained information about these businesses running illegal brothels; and in some instances under-aged girls and women from foreign countries were suspected to be working there. The two primary types of businesses that fit this description in South Africa are strip clubs and sensual massage parlours. All though there is no law against strip clubs or sensual massage parlours from recruiting foreign workers (nor am I arguing that there should be) - situations such as this have in the past been shown to accommodate girls and women who have been trafficked.

Up until now, the procedure for dealing with these situations would be for a member of the public issuing a complaint about the suspected venue to SAPS; and once subsequent procedures have been followed, SAPS then organise a raid of said venue. Now, in the time between the report and the raid, there is a chance of the venue receiving a tip-off that the raid is going to happen - giving the venue ample time to hide any illegal activities or Trafficking victims. Unfortunately, this is the cycle that police have had to go through with many specific venues- as they have received multiple complaints and reports form concerned members of the public and have raided said venues many times - finding nothing. Therefore, the apparent problem in this situation is that there is no form of legal accountability that is preventing strip clubs and sensual massage parlours from involving themselves in forms of exploitation and the selling of sexual services. Now that I have stated the problem, allow me to offer a solution.

There are many Anti-Trafficking awareness campaigns being run in various areas and with various groups of focus. There are awareness initiatives focussing on the most at risk in rural communities and urban schools. However, there is an incredible lack of trafficking awareness in places where sex trafficking is very likely to already be happening - strip clubs and sensual massage parlours. Now, both of these types of business are definitely legal and under as much pressure as any other business to comply with the law. However, with the nature of this industry it is easy for such businesses to conceal illegal activity - as these services need not be publicly advertised and are only made available to clients upon request. If one of these businesses is offering sexual services or is involved with Trafficking In Persons, then the best way to solve this problem is to offer the workers in these establishments training on how to identify abuse, exploitation and Trafficking In Persons as well as providing a direct and secure channel of reporting these injustices.

What this type of legislation could look like would be forcing these establishments to place awareness material within the venue in clear view of the workers in every primary language spoken by the workers (ie. if the institution recruits a worker from Thailand, information must be provided to that individual in Thai, clearly stating her rights and how to identify and expose exploitation). Along with this information, a toll-free hotline number must be clearly stated that the individual can call to report any illegal activity. This legislation is simple and the cost that would be needed for it to be implemented could be covered by each individual establishment itself as a requirement to be given the right to legally do business (Much like the requirements to trade liquor). The establishment will have to prove that they provide this information to each of their workers. If they do not they may suffer a heavy fine or have their trading licence revoked.

This awareness material would need to be certified by the Department of Social Development and may also incorporate a mandatory bi-annual inspection and training by the Department of Social Development or an authorised NGO. A training such as that could provide workers with a comprehensive understanding of how to identify exploitation, Trafficking In Persons and a knowledge of their rights are. Putting such legislation in place would serve to benefit legitimate strip clubs and sensual massage parlours- as it would be in their interests to protect their workers and expose illegal activity of competing businesses. It can therefore be assumed that if any of these businesses were against such legislation, that they must see it as negatively affecting their business which would only be able to be explained by said business having to end all illegal activity that they would currently be involved in.

Putting legislation such as this in place will by no means be the end of the Human Trafficking problem, but it may however play a role in decreasing the demand for trafficking victims. It will also give women that are currently trapped in a world of sexual exploitation in strip clubs and sensual massage parlours a chance for freedom and if we continue taking a series of small steps such as this, Trafficking In Persons can become a thing of the past. 

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