Durban - A call for the decriminalisation of sex work is at the top of the agenda for Sisonke sex workers’ movement.
The group say the law is driving the stigma attached to the industry, therefore making sex workers vulnerable.
A memorandum was handed to the Department of Justice’s acting regional head, Mable Ramela, outside the Durban City Hall on Tuesday.
This is a national initiative.
The memorandum states that sex workers have the right to choose their trade.
“We have a right to work in fair, decent and safe conditions. We choose to work in the sex industry, and we want to continue our trade without fear of harassment and abuse, by the public and members the SAPS,” the memorandum says.
The document describes the “harassment and violation” of sex workers who have been arrested.
The memorandum claims that when sex workers pay admission of guilt fines, they are not given receipts. Other sex workers claim their confiscated belongings have not been returned, and that they have not been formally charged or brought before court. Also, they are often abused while in police custody.
The memorandum states that when sex workers have been sexually assaulted, they are denied justice. Also they aren’t taken seriously by authorities and are unable to report the crime.
In the memorandum, Sisonke calls for sex workers not to be prosecuted, and for the industry to be decriminalised.
Sisonke claim that when police find condoms on a woman, they use them as evidence for a charge of prostitution.
The group has requested that the Justice Department make progress with legislative reforms and decriminalise sex work.
In 2000, the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) initiated legislative reform of the legal system’s response to sex work, under the Sexual Offences Act, “Adult Prostitution” Law Reform Project. Sex work activists and civilians submitted their recommendations to the “Adult Prostitution” discussion paper.
In it, they outlined possible implications of the options, including full criminalisation, regulation, legalisation, and the decriminalisation of sex work.
The Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce and Sisonke made submissions for decriminalisation of sex work, as it is the only legal model proved to uphold sex workers’ human rights.
In 2009, the SALRC released a discussion paper to consider the need for law reform relating to the sex industry. The paper was concerned with identifying alternative policies and legislative responses that might help to regulate, prevent, deter or reduce prostitution.
The discussion paper was aimed at reviewing the existing law that regulates the industry, and enhancing alignment with international human rights.
Under South African legislation, the voluntary selling and/or buying of sex, and all related activities, are criminal offences.