Sex workers moving out of shadows

17 May 2013 - 03:24 By AARTI J NARSEE and ELYSSA CHERNEY
File photo
File photo
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Cindy Dlamini* works from sunrise to sunset, spends her evenings with her six-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.

The 33-year-old is one of more than 150 000 sex workers who ply their trade in various parts of South Africa.

"[Sex work] gives me money. I can pay for my kids' school fees, buy them clothes and support them just like other mothers," she said.

Dlamini welcomed the Commission for Gender Equality's call yesterday for the decriminalisation of sex work. She is hoping this will be approved by parliament.

The commission based its call on the constitution, which proclaims that every person is entitled to human dignity, security and freedom of trade, occupation and profession.

Unlike legalisation - which refers to the regulation of aspects such as mandatory health checks - decriminalisation "advocates the repeal of all laws against sex work".

"Our research and legal analysis indicates that criminalisation actually harms sex workers, their human rights and access to labour laws - resulting in harassment and abuse, often at the hands of the police and other institutions meant to protect them," said Janine Hicks, a commissioner at CGE.

In the first national survey of sex workers, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force found that in Gauteng alone there were about 30000 sex workers. KwaZulu-Natal has 22480 and Northern Cape 15700. The majority of sex workers are women. About 5% are male and 4% transgender.

"We believe our human rights as sex workers are violated by the police. If it was decriminalised, everybody would live freely and we could work hand in hand with them," said Snowy Mamba, spokesman for Sisonke Sex Worker Movement.

About 76% of sex workers claim they have been robbed, raped and unlawfully arrested by the police.

"Last June I was pepper-sprayed by a policeman. I didn't see his name tag," said Dlamini.

When she went to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, she was at first denied treatment.

"I told them I was pepper-sprayed. They asked why. I didn't know how to explain. I wouldn't say I was a sex worker." she said.

She believes decriminalisation will benefit all sex workers.

"If they are launching this, people will care about how we suffer. Some want to leave but don't have the experience or skills."

After falling pregnant while at school and with no money to support her unborn child, she made the choice to enter the industry.

She will write her matric exams this year and hopes to become a nurse on e day.

*Not her real name