Increase in violence towards female sex workers

Sex worker from Shutterstock
Sex worker from Shutterstock

The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sisonke National Sex Workers Movement are disturbed by the increase in violence towards female sex workers in South Africa.

Need for decriminalisation

The recent incident involving a Kenilworth resident Tim Osrin, who allegedly assaulted a 44 year old domestic worker who he thought, was a sex worker provides proof of the need for the decriminalisation of sex work. Osrin, attacked the woman in full view of the public of Kenilworth, he belittled and insulted her because she’s a "sex worker".

Read: Sex workers - who and why?

Sisonke and SWEAT have attempted to constructively engage with the Kenilworth Ward Councillor to ensure the safety of sex workers in the area but he has refused to meet with us.

Kholi Buthelezi National Coordinator for Sisonke, says that, "The behaviour of Osrin is evidence of the intolerant attitude of some of the Kenilworth community that continually harass sex workers working in the area. Irrespective of whether she was a sex worker or domestic worker, we are all human beings deserving of our human rights being respected."

In a separate event, on 13 October 2014, a 24 year old woman committed suicide at the magistrate while waiting to appear on charges of loitering and possession of drugs.

The woman was apparently one of the 70 alleged female sex workers who were rounded up in Krugersdorp, Gauteng after the Krugersdorp SAPS raided the streets were sex workers operate.

Stab wounds to the neck

"Municipal by-laws are often used to harass sex workers, are seen by sex workers as a proxy for being arrested for sex work. While we don’t know why this young woman committed suicide, it is probably safe to say that were it not for criminalisation of sex work, she would not have died", says Maria Stacey, Acting Director at SWEAT.

Since July, SWEAT has recorded the death of at least 8 female sex workers, one of whom, 19 year old Shemise Gordan, also known as "Kleintjie" who was found dead in Kenilworth after sustaining stab wounds to her neck.

Read: Happy humans know their rights

Sisonke and SWEAT believe that the criminalisation of sex work drives sex workers to the margins of our society by perpetuating stigma and facilitating acts of unfair discrimination against sex workers. It fails to protect sex workers from abuse and stops them from seeking recourse for human rights violations.

"The laws used to arrest alleged sex workers are outdated, implementable and persistently violate sex workers' human rights. Under criminalisation sex workers have suffered immensely from police brutality, unlawful arrests and violence from clients and pimps", says Cherith Sanger, Attorney and Advocacy Manager at SWEAT.

Protecting sex workers' human rights

Buthelezi further says, "Sex workers call for the decriminalisation of consensual adult sex work to stop stigma and hate crimes against sex workers as decriminalisation is the only legal model that can protect sex workers' human rights."

Support for decriminalisation of sex work is growing. The World Health Organisation recommends that sex work should be decriminalised, and respected medical journal The Lancet recently concluded that decriminalising sex work is the single most influential action that can be taken to prevent the spread of HIV amongst sex workers.

Read: Sex workers to march for human rights

Sisonke and SWEAT call on the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to thoroughly investigate the suicide of the 24 year old woman in Krugersdorp and to publically release the findings of their investigation; and for the South African Police Service to prioritise ensuring the safety of alleged sex workers in the Kenilworth area as a matter of urgency.

For media contacts:

Maria Stacey - 082222 6601

Cherith Sanger - 071608 3357

Lesego Tlhwale - 081356 3165

Read more:

Decriminalise prostitution, say experts
Durban prostitute decapitated for traditional medicine
Prostitution in the genes?

Image: Sex worker from Shutterstock

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