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A number of sex worker arrests end in abuse by police or having to pay bribes

20 March 2018 - 14:51 By Farren Collins
Handcuffs. File Photo.
Handcuffs. File Photo.

Sex workers in South Africa will be arrested at least four times and will spend an average of 40 hours in custody if they are charged.

More worrying is that one third of sex worker arrests never make it to a police station or courthouse‚ instead often ending in sex workers being abused by police or forced to pay bribes.

These were just some of the findings of The Policing of Sex Work In South Africa survey compiled by NGO’s Sonke Gender Justice and the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).

It showed that only 12% of sex workers who were arrested received fines.

The report‚ which was conducted in response to the large volume of human rights violations involving sex workers and police reported to civil society organisations‚ recorded the experiences of 117 sex workers from Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

Sex workers who took part in the survey were aged between 21 and 65 years old.

Advocacy officer at Sonke Donna Evans said that the most shocking thing to emerge from the report was the extreme levels of violence at the hands of police that were reported by sex workers.

“They were extremely disturbing and included incidents of torture‚ assault‚ rape and even permanent disability‚” Evans said.

“It’s a form of gender-based violence and it’s happening on the frontline of policing.”

Evans believed that the biggest problem was the lack of support for sex workers who reported abuse.

“Complainants are not getting through the doors [of police stations] and are not allowed to report crimes‚” she said.

“I am not aware of a single successful complaint or positive finding [against the police].”

It is estimated that there are between 132‚000 and 182‚000 female‚ male and transgender sex workers in South Africa‚ where the buying and selling of sex is criminalised.

Nosipho Vidima‚ a lobbying officer at SWEAT‚ said that between 2012 and 2017 the organisation found that 60% of the cases they dealt with were human rights violations at the hands of police.

Vidima said they had engaged with the SAPS to train police in dealing with sex workers.

“The Positive Police Partnership is aimed at the sensitisation of police‚” said Vidima.

“We are looking at the human being from the police officer to the sex worker.”

The SAPS said that police had been observant of the outcries and that they were “looking inwardly” to see what their role was in turning around perceptions.

“There are simple and baby steps that SAPS are embarking on‚” they said.

“Not all the issues that have been highlighted have been finalised‚ but there is an initiative within the organisation that proves that SAPS is starting to do a lot inside.”