Government commission calls for repeal of laws against ‘sex work’
The question of whether or not to legalise prostitution is being debated in parliamentary committees following a recent formal call by the Gender Equality Commission (GEC) for the repeal of all laws against ‘sex work’.
Legalisation of ‘sex work’ would help protect prostitutes from abuse and would not lead to more people becoming sex workers, said the commission which is a Section 9 institution, mandated to make policy recommendations to Parliament on gender issues.
Welcoming the commission’s call, Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) director Sally Shackleton said: “It’s a very positive and brave move and far too many of us are just not having this conversation.”
She said the current system is not working, ‘sex workers’ experience abuse, and that with the legalisation of ‘sex work’ state resources spent on ‘prosecuting and persecuting’ prostitutes could be diverted into programmes to assist them.
Gateway News asked three Christian organisations which have a record of engaging the Government on the issue of prostitution, to comment on the GEC’s latest recommendation which was announced on May 16.
“Legalising prostitution normalises it, making it an acceptable form of ‘work’ and makes pimping a legitimate form of business. Pimps become legitimate ‘sex entrepreneurs’. The nature of any business is to expand. This government-sanctioned impetus fuels the demand; the industry expands and more women are recruited and trafficked to meet the demand” said, Errol Naidoo, Director of the Family Policy Institute.
While wishing for the focus to be on the customers and pimps one has to acknowledge the positives that have arisen out of the arrest of prostitutes, he said. He said it seems that only by acting and making arrests, ‘whether of pimps, johns or prostitutes’, have the authorities been able to establish what is really happening on the street and consequently been able to extricate women from abusive situations or uncover trafficking.
“As an example of this, a 17 year old was picked up prostituting on Beach Road and taken home to her very surprised mother,” he said.
Taryn Hodgson, International Coordinator of African Christian Network, said: “Contrary to what SWEAT and the CGE believe, it is the legalisation of prostitution that creates an even bigger underground trade. Many pimps and owners of brothels are involved in organised crime and are experts at dodging paying taxes and avoiding detection by the police.”
She cited a case in which the Cape Town Vice Squad arrested a young prostitute from PE, who requested help to exit prostitution. They discovered that her Nigerian pimp was holding her toddler hostage as a way of trapping her in the sex trade.
Australia and New Zealand are excellent examples of how legalising prostitution causes it to spiral out of control, she said. Ten years after brothels became legal in Queensland, Australia, 90% of prostitution in the state occurs outside the law, university research shows.
“Permiting prostitution, mostly benefits the pimps, traffickers and sex industry barons. People often don’t realise that decriminalisation means decriminalisation of the whole sex industry and not only the women. They haven’t thought through the consequences of legalising pimps as legitimate sex entrepreneurs,” Hodgson stated.
In South Africa, in addition to local criminal crime groups, foreign organised crime groups from Russia, Bulgaria, Thailand, China and Nigeria are already established in the local sex industry, she said.
Strip clubs in particular have been used as not only fronts for prostitution but also to traffic in women for sexual exploitation on work permits as ‘exotic dancers’.
Hodgson said legalising prostitution ties the hands of the police, as they are no longer able to conduct raids on brothels. It thus hinders their ability to monitor traffickers.
She noted that Holland, where prostitution has been legal for many years, now seeks to criminalise certain aspects of prostitution, as they seem to have lost all control over ‘organised crime’.
SA Law Reform Commission
She said the South African Law Reform Commission is currently engaged in a lengthy process of acknowledging thousands of submissions from concerned citizens on the issue of legalising prostitution before making recommendations to the Minister of Justice.
“We need to persuade Members of Parliament, especially those of The Justice Portfolio Parliamentary Committee before then,” she said.
The Salvation Army believes that prostitution in any form, lessens the dignity of human life and that as a country, we need to recognise that prostitution can be a form of sexual slavery that feeds human trafficking.
“To combat demand it is imperative that we make it culturally unacceptable to buy women, children or men for sex. Specific programmes for male sexual offenders should be instituted”, says Margaret Stafford, Salvation Army Human Trafficking Coordinator.
An idea that was made popular recently is to criminalise prostitute-users, and de-criminalise victims of sexual assault, she said. The United Nations recommends that while prostitute-users should be criminalised, prostitutes should not. They should be treated as victims not as criminals.
The debate about legalising prostitution is a recurring theme in South Africa. Prior to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, then South African police commissioner Jackie Selebi argued that legalising prostitution for the duration of the competition would free police to work on more pressing security issues. In March last year the ANC Women’s League came out in support of legalising prostitution and proposed tabling the issue at the ANC leadership conference in Mangaung in December 2012. It later decided to shelve its proposal for the time being. ‘Sex workers’ movements like SWEAT, which was established in the 90s, and Sisonke, which was launched in 2003, continually lobby for legalisation of prostitution.