Sex Workers

Sex workers sense victory

On August 2 the Pretoria High Court came to a decision that could result in a groundbreaking change in the legal standing of prostitution.

The court ruled Section 20 (1) (A) of the Sexual Offences Act - which outlaws the sale of sex - as unconstitutional. If the judgment is confirmed by the Constitutional Court, prostitution could be legalised in South Africa. It will remain a crime to keep a brothel or live off the earnings of sex workers.

A group involved in the rights of prostitutes, Sweat (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce), has responded to the move with conditional approval.

Although pleased with the prospect of prostitution itself becoming legal, the group felt that the suggestions of the court were not far-reaching enough and did not take into

consideration the needs and interests of prostitutes. They also objected to the continued illegality of keeping a brothel. "Sex workers are adults who have the right and the capability to decide how and where they will offer their services," Sweat said.

The remaining laws governing the sex trade should, they stated in a press release, be lifted, so that "sex workers can provide their services in a structured, legitimate environment":

They illustrated their reasons for taking this stance by citing two real-life cases:

Cynthia, a 28-year-old mother of three children, has been selling sex on the streets of Cape Town for five years. She has been arrested several times for loitering and soliciting, but never for prostitution itself. She has in the past been raped by clients, but was afraid to report these assaults to the police.

With the proposed change in the law, Cynthia will still, objects Sweat, be liable for prosecution for loitering and soliciting.

She will still be stigmatised and reluctant to access the health or police services.

Loretta is employed at a massage parlour. Although safe from the dangers of the street, she is still vulnerable to violence and unscrupulous treatment by her employers. She cannot work from home as she has two small children and in any case would then be liable for prosecution for keeping a brothel. To be able to ply her trade legally she would have to go out onto the streets.

Sweat has announced its intention of intervening when the matter goes to the Constitutional Court and lobbying for the repeal of all laws pertaining to the sex trade.

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