CASE SA asks for more time for public comment on bill that seeks to decriminalise prostitution

The Centre Against Sexual Exploitation South Africa (CASE SA) has called on the Minister of Justice to extend the period for public comment on a controversial bill which seeks to decriminalise the buying and selling of prostitution.

In a letter to the minister, CASE SA asks for the public participation period on the bill which was only released for comment last week to be extended by a month from the end of January 2023 to the end of February.

Limiting the period for comment to the holiday season will deny many people adequate opportunity to respond fully on an issue that is not only highly contentious but also holds far-reaching ramifications for the socio-economic wellbeing of South Africa and its people, including prostituted persons, says CASE SA.

“This is especially important given the growing body of scientific research evidence and lived realities of prostituted persons both locally and abroad, that show that prostitution is not work but a system of sexual exploitation that preys of the vulnerable and marginalised, and is rife with racism, class prejudice, inequality, and gender discrimination,” it says in its letter to the minister.

The letter notes that should the department fail to facilitate adequate public participation in the law-making process, the bill will be open to constitutional challenge on procedural grounds.

Speaking at a press briefing last Friday, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the proposed law change is aimed at protecting “sex workers” against abuse and exploitation, improving their access to healthcare and brining better working conditions and less stigma. While the government’s views have been welcomed by “sex worker” advocacy groups and by some media voices, crtics say that passing the bill — the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendement Bill of 2022 — would be a backwards step.

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‘Inherently harmful’
Doctors for Life International (DFL), which represents about 1 600 doctors in SA and abroad, says in a media release there is ample scientific evidence that prostitution is inherently harmful and that most of the involved women would exit if they could find an alternative source of income. 

“According to international studies, two thirds of the prostitutes had symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), irrespective of whether prostitution is decriminalised, criminalised or legalised in the studied countries. This also occurs in the most traumatised groups i.e., combat veterans, raped women and state-sponsored torture survivors,” says DFL.

The DFL media release also notes: “Comprehensive written and oral submissions made to the SALRC (South African Law Reform Commission), pointed out that prostitution leads to numerous violations of human rights, including: sexual harassment, economic slavery, educational deprivation, job discrimination, partner and family violence, racism, classism, vulnerability to frequent physical and sexual assault, bodily invasion representing torture, amongst others.”

Increases child prostitution
In a response to the government’s proposal to decriminalise prostitution, Errol Naidoo, director of the Family Policy Institute, says International studies reveal that decriminalised adult prostitution increases child prostitution and fails to break the links between prostitution and organised crime. It also significantly expands prostitution rather than contains it.

He says that, incredibly, a 2017 report by the SALRC of a 9-year investigation into prostitution (commissioned by the Department of Justice) warned against decriminalising prostitution because of high rates of gender-based violence, poverty and unemployment.

He accuses the Department of Justice of “sneakily” inviting public comment on the “Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill 2022” during the holiday season “to deliberately undermine the public participation process”.

Naidoo urges SA citizens to comment on the bill emailing Mr Tsietsi Sebelemetja at the Deparment of Justice at Bills1@justice.gov.za by Jan 31. He also calls on citizens to view 10 Reasons to Oppose Full Decriminalisation of Prostitution provided by the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation and to use their arguments in their submissions.

Petition against bill
Collective Against Sexual Exploitation, representing a number of anti-human-trafficking groups, has started a petition opposing the bill. They say prostitution is a gross violation of human dignity and inherently exploitative. It exploits the vulnerability of those who are desperate to survive and provide for their family. And it turns women into products in a system built on gender inequality.

SALE! SA (Stand Against Legal Exploitation! SA) – a broad-based collective which includes survivors of prostitution, civil society organisations, researchers, academics and anti-trafficking groups – says in a press release that prostitution is “violence against women and prostituted people” and decriminalising it fully would be “disastrous”, leading to increased exploitation of women, and an increase in human trafficking and crime.

SALE! SA supports partial decriminalisation of prostitution, whereby people who are sold or forced to sell themselves for sex, or who believe that selling themselves for sex is their only survival option, should be exempt from prosecution. But brothel owners, pimps, traffickers and people who buy sex should face criminal consequences.

See SALE! SA press release and manifesto.

In an article published in The Scotsman this week, journalist Jacci Stoyle writes that “the full decriminalisation of prostitution is a dystopian nightmare which is having terrible consequences for those who sell sex in New Zealand”. Drawing on an interview with a woman who was stuck in the decriminalised sex trade in New Zealand for 20 years, she exposes some of the myths about the supposed benefits of decriminalisation.

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