‘Murdered sex workers deserve justice’

2015-08-11 06:00
Flowers were laid to mark the place where the body of a murdered sex worker was found. Three other such murders were commemorated across Cape Town last week.

Flowers were laid to mark the place where the body of a murdered sex worker was found. Three other such murders were commemorated across Cape Town last week.

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About 30 sex workers were murdered in the last year, according to statistics of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat).

A third of these murders took place in Cape Town, says Sweat spokesperson Lesego Tlhwale.

These numbers were highlighted last week as sex workers gathered to remember four women found dead in different parts of the city.

The group gathered in Oak Avenue, Kenilworth, where a sex worker was found stabbed to death; in front of the Loop Street backpackers in which a sex worker was found strangled and mutilated; in Ravenscraig Road, Woodstock, where another sex worker was found beaten to death and in Site B, Khayelitsha, where a sex worker was assaulted so severely she died.

Sex workers and supporters had a moment of silence and lay flowers in memory of the murdered women at each site, Tlhwale says.

“Often cases of violence against sex workers go unnoticed and there are no suspects found. Sex workers need to be recognised as human. They died in a brutal way and no person deserves that,” she says.

Sex workers experience violence on a daily level, from a number of sources, Tlhwale says.

“Violence is rife. According to our count, ten women have been murdered in Cape Town since June last year. Cape Town is by far the worst,” she says.

A sex worker who attended the remembrance event, who does not want to be identified, says she was torn between anger and joy.

“It made me happy to remember those who were killed, but it makes me angry that nothing is happening and justice is being denied. They were slaughtered like chickens,” she says.

“Everyone faces risks each day, but it’s worse for us. Sex work is criminalised so we can’t even go to the police if something happens to us. We feel unsafe while working because we face police harassment, clients take advantage of us and we are often robbed. No-one is looking after sex workers and we have to work to make money for our families.”

The criminalisation of sex work drives sex workers underground and increases stigma. It makes sex workers vulnerable to human rights violations and often violent death, Tlhwale believes.

“The current law further creates obstacles for sex workers to access justice and legal recourse, meaning many of their cases remain unsolved and murdered sex workers forgotten,” she says.

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