Legal Empowerment Program Increases Access to Justice for Sex Workers in South Africa

In response to high levels of police violence against sex workers in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC) and the Wits Institute for Sexual Reproductive Health and Related Diseases have established a legal empowerment program for sex workers, with a focus on the inner-city area of Hillbrow.

With support from the Open Society Foundations, TLAC—which has a long history of providing legal support to marginalized women—will employ two sex worker paralegals to reach out to sex worker communities and offer basic human rights education. The paralegals will document cases of human rights abuses against sex workers and act as a referral point to TLAC’s staff attorney for legal representation. Given its long-term work with the local sex worker community, the Wits Institute will host the program and provide general support in its establishment and operation.

Partnering a progressive legal service center with a sex worker organization in order to ensure that sex workers have access to justice—whether it is direct legal aid, legal empowerment through training sex workers as paralegals, or providing legal and human rights training—can be an effective means of challenging abuse by police, clients, and others.

The Open Society Foundations are also supporting a similar program in Cape Town, run by the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce and the Women’s Legal Centre, as well as other sites across the world.