Writing on the eve of SA’s National Women’s Day, ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley explains why legalising prostitution offer no benefits to women — only more profits to organised crime.
“I have listened carefully to the many arguments for decriminalisation and am acutely aware of the difficult and even desperate situations people face — often on a daily basis — but nothing I have heard convinces me that women will be safer or have greater options if prostitution is decriminalised.
There is a view that prostitution is mostly harmless, and that if you make it legal and/or regulate it, it will become safer for women and clean up the sex industry. This of course is wishful thinking on the part of some and deviously misleading on the part of others.
First of all, health and other services are available to all that live in South Africa and won’t be more available when prostitution is decriminalised. Secondly, countries that have experimented with decriminalising the practice of prostitution have found that trafficking in women increases to meet the demand created by a legalised sex industry. It also makes it difficult to hold traffickers and pimps accountable as they evade prosecution by using the legality as a cover — claiming that women knew what they were getting into. Organised crime is heavily invested in a burgeoning sex industry and flourishes where prostitution is decriminalised.
The devastating impact of prostitution on women in developing countries and on marginalised groups in developed countries speaks for itself. Individuals, families and communities should not be encouraged to give up on themselves and embrace such dehumanising practices that have a destructive impact on all concerned. It is unthinkable for any government to protect and facilitate this abuse. Where sex work is recognised, those who are out of work and depend on UIF, will be told there is work available — sex work. This is not a solution to people’s problems — it is exploitation of the vulnerable.
The ACDP is firmly convinced that decriminalising prostitution has less to do with the human rights of women and more to do with the multibillion-dollar prostitution and human trafficking industry globally.
The ACDP supports the view that the entire sex industry must remain criminalised and the relatively new laws in South Africa, which target the user, including clients, pimps, procurers and traffickers must be enforced. In addition, a mechanism is needed whereby prostitutes can be diverted into an exit programme to help victims of prostitution to rebuild their lives. Provision for the criminal offence to be expunged on completion of the programme should be an incentive.
An overwhelming body of international evidence shows that the terrible abuse and exploitation of women and children trapped in prostitution do not decline where there is decriminalisation; in fact, the opposite is true. Public sentiment in South Africa is opposed to legalising prostitution, but well organised lobby groups place constant pressure on government and society. Many well-meaning compassionate people, organisations and legal minds are used to put a human face on this inhumane enterprise. The concerns they raise are real, but the solutions called for will not help women, men and children trapped in prostitution who pay the price for it physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In a study done in nine countries, including South Africa, 89% of prostituted people said they wanted to leave it, but had no other options for survival. Prostitution can have no legitimate role in enhancing women’s economic empowerment. Women must have choices through skills development and sustainable job creation.”