War against sex work hots up

By Quinton Mtyala Time of article published Dec 14, 2009

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Massage parlours and the internet are the latest fronts in a war that the Cape Town city council is waging against sex work after plans to catch clients in the act came unstuck.

Last week, two parlours located in office blocks in the Cape Town CBD were hit, with one woman arrested for cocaine possession and a total of 16 masseuses "profiled" - eight at each establishment.

The city council's plan to catch "Johns" through the use of sting operations received a lukewarm response from the SAPS, which has gone on record to say that prostitution, although illegal, was not considered a priority crime.

The man who has spearheaded the fight against sex workers in Cape Town, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith, said that the Vice Squad would now also be trawling the internet for adult personals to catch those falling foul of the city's nuisance and business licensing by-laws.

Neil Arendse, spokesman for the squad, said that despite the setback the city would still be going ahead to target prostitutes, their clients and the pimps who benefited from them.

The unit has profiled "well over 130" sex workers in the city, but Arendse could not say how many clients have been arrested. Although staffed by just 17 officers, Arendse said the manpower was sufficient to clamp down on city sex workers.

Smith, who has been spearheading the campaign to get sex workers off the streets for several years now, said that members of the Vice Squad had had several operations in Cape Town's "main sex corridors" in Koeberg Road and the Southern and Northern Suburbs.

Smith said he had had a series of meetings with church leaders to get safe houses up and running for sex workers who wanted to leave the industry.

He also warned tourists intending to visit the city that contracting HIV would be the least of their problems if they chose to use the services of prostitutes, saying they could get attacked and robbed.

Marelise Richter of the SA National Aids Council said the city's fight against sex workers and their criminalisation disempowered women from negotiating safer sex with clients.

"It's hard for sex workers to access health services due to the stigmatisation of their profession, and this increases their exposure to HIV," Richter said.

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