Parliament talks sex work, pimps and law enforcement

A prostitute walks past so-called "sex boxes" at the opening day of Switzerland's first sex drive-in in Zurich. (Fabrice Coffrini, AFP)
A prostitute walks past so-called "sex boxes" at the opening day of Switzerland's first sex drive-in in Zurich. (Fabrice Coffrini, AFP)

Cape Town - The criminalisation of sex work has not resulted in the reduction of the levels of the work itself, or the violence against the women involved, MPs heard on Wednesday.

The current regime was difficult to enforce and implement, Commission for Gender Equality chief executive officer Keketso Maema told the multi-party women’s caucus in Parliament.

Criminalisation denied sex workers their human and constitutional rights and prevented access to legal protection and enjoyment of labour rights.

“It has led to harassment and abuse of sex workers at the hands of police,” she said. The commission was currently investigating such cases.

Maema said fears of an increase in human trafficking and child sex work were unfounded.

“Instead, it has empowered sex workers to protect themselves against violence, improved relationships between sex workers and police, and has had no impact on levels of demand for sex work,” she said, referring to international studies.

Pimps

It had become clear that the law was hard to enforce, and police were using municipal by-laws related to nuisance and loitering to detain women suspected of being “sellers”.

Maema said if sex work was decriminalised, law enforcement resources could be used to focus on the safety, security, and protection of sex workers.

One MP said if sex work was decriminalised, the law would have to empower women to run their own business, instead of pimps running the show.

The CGE said pimps were a big problem and they were looking at it.

Committee chairperson Masefele Morutoa said the conversation was not new, and they were planning to ensure the debate continued.

“We are still using pieces of legislation we inherited from the apartheid regime,” she said.

The committee would receive presentations from sex workers and other advocacy groups.

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