Police 'pepper-spray, rape, abuse' sex workers

18 August 2016 - 08:58 By BIANCA CAPAZORIO

On August 9 - the day the country celebrated women's rights - sex worker Samantha April's naked body was found on a Cape Town beach, beaten and bloodied.She had been picked up by clients - a male and a female - and was later found dead, strangled and cut with a butcher's knife."While the president was commemorating the march to say that we as women have rights, another woman lay there, without rights and dignity," Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) spokesman Nosipho Vidima told parliament's multiparty women's caucus yesterday.The caucus was due to discuss the decriminalisation of sex workers but only a handful of MPs, all from the ANC, attended. A list of 20 apologies was read out before the meeting started.Chairman of the caucus, Masefele Morutoa, said even though some were sick or were attending other committee meetings, the attendance was "unacceptable".An emotional Vidima told the caucus that Sweat knew of at least 11 sex workers who had died this year. Sweat is advocating the decriminalisation of adult sex work to promote human rights and to ensure sex workers' access to healthcare and justice.Vidima detailed research that showed that of 414 sex workers who were interviewed , 254 had reported some form of abuse, 13 reported sexual abuse, 71 had been physically assaulted and 192 reported harassment.Of the 203 that had been arrested, 43 reported that police had driven around with them in their vans and 53 reported that police had taken degrading pictures of them.Vidima said some women were raped by police or pepper-sprayed, sometimes in their genitals.Tearful sex worker Noluvo Magwevana told the caucus of some of the troubles she experienced as a sex worker and a mother."It's not nice but we have to [do the work], our children still have to eat. It hurts to have your children taken away and then in the morning you must still head to the streets. There are people who don't understand what we do. We are being killed, we live without our children," she said.Nobuhle Nobuzana said she struggled to get a job because she had a criminal record, apparently for solicitation."I have never ever strangled a man asking for money, I have never stolen, I have never fought and yet I have a criminal record. It hurts," she said.Vidima urged the caucus to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work and urged it to compel the SA Law Reform Commission to release a long-awaited report into the matter.Several MPs openly called for decriminalisation of sex work but Dellene Clark, specialist state law adviser for the commission, said that "government is not constitutionally obligated to change the existing law or to follow a particular model.""It is a policy choice as there are a range of legal responses," she said.State law adviser Johan de Lange said he believed the release of the report was "imminent".

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