Protesters in Johannesburg demand sex work be legalised

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Sex workers and supporters shout and sing slogans at a march in solidarity with sex workers set on decriminalising the trade in Johannesburg.
Sex workers and supporters shout and sing slogans at a march in solidarity with sex workers set on decriminalising the trade in Johannesburg.
GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP
  • During a protest on Thursday, sex workers demanded their trade be legalised, 
  • One said she was able to purchase a house through her sex work.
  • Sex workers are often victims of crime, but can't report it.

Around 200 sex workers took to the streets of Johannesburg on Thursday to demand sex work be decriminalised.

"This is what I wear to work," Dudu Dlamini, clad in hiking boots and a long dress, told AFP. "No high heels or short skirts.

"It requires expertise and skills you have no idea about," she added.

Constance Mathe, who has been in the profession for 16 years, said: "I purchased my own house out of sex work." 

A mother of two, Mathe used to be a domestic worker, but only earned R1 000 per month.

Sex workers and supporters shout and sing slogans
Sex workers and supporters shout and sing slogans during a march in solidarity with sex workers set on decriminalising the trade in Johannesburg.

The country's sex work laws date back to the apartheid era and punish sex workers and their clients.

"Sex work is work, not a crime," Dlamini said at the protest.

Around her, the group advanced with signs held aloft, which read, "Where is the crime?" and "Decrim sex work now".

Some of the protesters marched with their faces covered, flanked by police cars.

"The police harass us and ask us for money. And sex workers who are abused by their clients cannot just go to the police station and file a case, because they would be prosecuted for being sex workers," explains Yonela Sinqu of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).

According to the organisation, sex workers are often victims of violence and rape.

SWEAT says around 10 sex workers are murdered each year, but many cases go unreported.

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