Mpumalanga leads in sex worker murders

Civil society and advocacy groups are escalating the fight to end gender-based violence
Civil society and advocacy groups are escalating the fight to end gender-based violence

National sex workers’ movement Sisonke has joined forces with the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce to escalate the call to end violence against sex workers in South Africa.

This call echoes loudly during 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children and the fight against HIV/Aids.

Sisonke says this year alone 31 sex workers were brutally murdered.

Katlego Rasebitse, Sisonke spokesperson, told City Press that Mpumalanga, with 21 murders this year, has the highest number of killings.

Founded in 2003, Sisonke is the largest independent sex worker-led organisation in South Africa.

It’s main focus is to promote and protect the health, legal and human rights of people who sell sex.

The organisation has been leading social justice interventions to work towards supporting the sex workers through its operations in all nine provinces.

“What is to be commemorated year in year out if the cries for decriminalisation of sex work and calls to afford sex workers equal citizenry are not heard?

“We are counting sex workers’ bodies monthly, handling cases of police brutality and instances of intimate partner violence on sex workers are not reducing,” reads part of Sisonke’s statement addressing the abuse of human rights and dignity of sex workers.

The social justice movement and other civil society groups have been lobbying for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa in order to humanise the workers and offer them protection.

Sisonke national coordinator Kholi Buthelezi adds: “A year has come to an end again and sex workers’ lives in South Africa are yet to be recognised. Sex workers’ rights are not considered, upheld, respected and protected.

“The treatment of the sex worker community under the criminal justice [system] has failed. People who should be protective of them are not responding to the sex workers’ cries. This instead raises an alarm and concerns about when our government will take the agenda of the sex work community into consideration.”

Sisonke has started working with the country’s police chiefs, through sensitisation workshops, to educate and inform them about the violence sex workers are vulnerable to and experience daily.

“The biggest fear now is the violence that is happening at the hands of the clients,” says Rasebitse.

She adds that while in the past sex workers feared the police, this fear has now shifted to the clients who murder and incite extreme violence against them.

Government should recognise that the continued criminalisation of sex work leads to innocent lives being lost unnecessarily, leaving more broken families in abject poverty, says Sisonke.

. This series on LGBTIQ life in Africa is made possible through a partnership with The Other Foundation. To learn more about its work, visit

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