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Sex workers say there will be major benefits if the industry is decriminalised and that they would be entitled to the same rights as those in other areas of employment.
In addition, they say relations with the police would improve and that they would be more likely to report abuse. SA also needs to accept, they say, that prostitution is a reality that isn’t going to disappear.
Duduzile Dlamini, 35, who has been a sex worker for almost 10 years, said decriminalisation would help rid the country of human trafficking.
“It’s not going anywhere. Decriminalisation will assist in improving the industry. We know and see a lot but can never report it. It will allow us to report underage sex workers and trafficking without fear of arrest,” said Dlamini.
Lloyd Rugara, a 32-year-old gay sex worker who was held hostage in an upmarket suburb in the city for six months, said he wanted his work to be recognised as a job like any other to protect sex workers from similar ordeals.
“They threatened to kill me if I didn’t take the drugs. I was forced to have sex with all those men, I don’t even remember how many, while the man who hired me watched on a hidden camera,” said Rugara.
Dlamini said decriminalisation would also ensure that sex workers were afforded human rights which, she says, have been violated.
In addition, those working in brothels would be able to go to the CCMA should they be unfairly dismissed and would also be entitled to maternity leave and overtime, Dlamini said.
Oratile Moseki, advocacy manager for the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), said decriminalisation was the only way to go.
“It’s not the magic pill that will solve everything. But other states and countries, like New South Wales and New Zealand, have shown that decriminalisation is the only system that improves relations between sex workers and police.
“Health outcomes in general, under decriminalisation, are better. It motivates brothel owners to hold high health standards and ensure that sex workers practice safe sex without any inhibitions,” said Moseki.
Revive your life, ex-hooker urges
A former sex worker says no society “in its right mind” would legalise adult prostitution.
Zachary Smit, 31, was what he calls “a hooker” at an East London brothel when he was 15. He is now the co-founder of Revive Your Life, an organisation which seeks to educate HIV-positive men about fitness and nutrition.
Smit said he saw “no good” in adult prostitution for it to be decriminalised.
“Many evenings I dreaded what I did. It’s really soul-destroying. I felt filthy. The clients were not the type of people you wanted to have sex with, but you had to because you were a kept boy.
“I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t know what to do. It took a lot out of me.”
Smit said those calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution needed to stop being “lazy” and find “decent” employment.
“It's the same as saying let’s legalise drugs. Why can’t they do work they can grow from, work that is taxable?” said Smit.
‘Policing serves as a safety net’
The City of Cape Town’s Vice Squad says the decriminalisation of adult prostitution would make it more difficult to police human trafficking and the use of under-aged people as sex slaves.
JP Smith, the city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, said these activities were difficult to police and decriminalisation would make it worse.
“At least now you still have a molecule of control. I find (calls for decriminalisation) mind-boggling. People calling for decriminalisation don’t know what’s going on… or they know and have another agenda about the safety of these women.”
The Vice Squad carries out inspections of streets and properties in residential and central business areas, and issues fines to individuals known to be and who identify themselves as sex workers.
Nathan Ladegourdie, assistant chief of the squad, said that since its inception, the unit had dealt with more than 2 000 prostitutes and helped “numerous” women who did not want to be in the sex trade.