Western Cape police have been asked to report to the police national office on the abuse of sex workers, Deputy Police Minister Makhotso Sotyu said on Thursday.
Sotyu said provincial police had to investigate allegations by sex workers that officers physically and sexually assaulted them.
They would have to make their report to the national department of police by August 31. The police were the “first contact” sex workers had with the criminal justice system.
“We have heard during the public engagements with sex workers, this particular first contact is not only horrendous, but it is also horrific, with near fatal consequences,” Sotyu said in remarks prepared for delivery at a Sex Worker Symposium in Boksburg.
“Issues that were raised by these ordinary sex workers had moved me,” she said.
Reacting to reports by sex workers that police targeted them and confiscated their condoms, Sotyu said this could only worsen the country's HIV problem.
“Also, confiscating and destroying unused condoms grossly undermines our government's efforts to reduce infection rates amongst key and vulnerable populations.”
She said the police should not abuse or harass sex workers, even while prosecuting them for law-breaking.
“Failure to rebuke violation of human rights will surely send a confusing message to police that police brutality will continue to go unpunished.”
She urged sex workers who had been victimised to file formal complaints so those guilty could be disciplined or criminally charged.
Sotyu said that while sex workers should have their human rights protected, their activities were still illegal.
“Therefore, police officers are expected to oversee that laws are not broken, and those who break it must still face the might of the law.”
However, according to conference organisers, Sotyu deviated from her prepared remarks to add that police had more serious crime to tackle.
“We have more serious challenges than running after sex workers,” Sotyu said, according to a statement issued by the SA National Aids Council.
Sotyu said organised sex workers should seek further meetings with the national police commissioner to follow up on a court order that Western Cape police could not arrest them without an intention to prosecute.
She said sex workers should also participate in the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence, starting on Saturday. - Sapa