‘Sex work is not a crime'

2018-12-11 06:00
Participants Gavin Jacobs and Glynis Bentham, a SWEAT lobbyist, at the event in Observatory on Friday 7 December. Candles were lit in memory of sex workers who passed away.

Participants Gavin Jacobs and Glynis Bentham, a SWEAT lobbyist, at the event in Observatory on Friday 7 December. Candles were lit in memory of sex workers who passed away.

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The National Sex Workers’ Movement in South Africa (Sisonke), Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and partners observed the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in Observatory on Friday 7
December.

The activists also used the event at the Observatory Community Centre to remember sex workers who had passed away and current sex workers who are continually being oppressed through the criminal law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act, 2007), they say in a statement.

Sisonke national coordinator, Kholi Buthelezi, says: “Without government’s intervention we cannot assure the protection of sex workers out there is guaranteed, as current laws criminalise sex work in South Africa. It has left us with lots of wounds and scars that will not heal any time, because many families have lost parents, mothers, brothers, sisters – not only that but breadwinners.”

According to the statement, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was founded in 2003 when a man pleaded guilty to murdering 48 women, most of them sex workers, in the United States. Creators Dr Annie Sprinkle and Robyn Few started the event to bring attention to the worldwide epidemic of hate crimes committed against sex workers.

Nosipho Vidima, Sweat human rights officer, says: “As part of the #SayHerName campaign, Sweat, Sisonke and partners have been collecting data on sex workers who have died with focus to remember those who passed away from systemic violence, police brutality, gender-based violence and intimate partner violence.

“From January to November 2018 we have had 26 reported deaths; however, this number usually escalates in the festive season. This is just the number that is reported directly to us by peer educators, human rights defenders, our national helpline and the sex work community.”

Vidima says the number does not include the majority of cases that go unreported. “As part of the 16 Days of Activism and to commemorate the global International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, we urge government to take the lives of sex workers seriously and decriminalise sex work now,” says Vidima.

The day serves as a form of solidarity where sex workers, allies, and advocates from all over the world come together to mourn the violence perpetrated against sex workers and to renew commitments to end this violence.“As much as HIV/Aids is tackled, it is a matter of urgency and it is high time that human rights of sex workers are addressed. An effective and positive change is what will better the working environment because sex workers are human beings before they become sex workers,” says Buthelezi.

A meaningful commemoration for sex workers, the sex work sector and partners would be for the government to heed the call for the decriminalisation of the industry, affording sex workers freedom from stigma, discrimination, violence often perpetrated by police officers, and access to primary health care, the statement reads.

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