In South Africa, Sex Workers Arm Themselves with the Law

The criminalization of sex work has dire consequences for the safety and health of sex workers.

Police threaten sex workers with arbitrary arrest, demand bribes, and abuse and sexually violate them. As a criminalized group, sex workers have felt powerless to confront abuse by both clients and police, and in turn, unable to rely on police when they need help. With sex work pushed underground, recent research has shown a strong correlation between criminalization and the risk of HIV infection.

Now, through an innovative program in Cape Town, South Africa, sex workers confront this situation with peer support and legal advice.

Supervised by an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre—an organization dedicated to equality for women—four former and current sex workers work as paralegals. From contesting a fine to challenging abuse, the paralegals offer sex workers legal support at their office, over the phone, and during regular street-level outreach.

They work in close collaboration with the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force, a sex worker support and advocacy group, and Sisonke, which is South Africa’s leading sex worker movement. The paralegals complement these groups’ health outreach by ensuring that sex workers know and act on their rights.

In the video above, meet some of the paralegals working to empower sex workers, and see the powerful difference this support has made in one woman’s quest for justice.

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A great clip that captures the importance of the paralegal project and highlights some of the issues around the criminalisation of sex work.

it is very nice to sex work res are fighting for theirs right. i support for the legal right

I think there is no governance with the state since long. How long we tolerate this nonsense situation of human rights violation? It's all about nonsense worst governance of the states. They even don't care about rule of the law made by there own. We are hopeless about national, regional and international human rights organizations.

Hi, kudos for the great work. Id like to follow through more documentation from your program touching on MARPs programming.

Kind regards,
Stephen

Rights based activism till the end!

Meaning sex workers should be given their rights just like the other group but also won't it increase the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst the community?

Thank you, Barua, for your comment. Some of the main drivers of HIV infection among sex workers are actually criminalization of sex work, violence, and stigma. For instance, recent research presented in The Lancet showed that elimination of violence against sex workers could avert 17-20% of new HIV infections over the next decade. Hence, we believe that programs that try to address violence – like the one featured in the video – contribute to lower HIV infection rates.

Sebastian, besides they deserve all the rights as any human being, ¿wouldn't be better to try to take them out of that job and give them education and to have another type of job less risky?

We advocate for the rights and well being of sex workers and other Key populations. We have found it so important to train sex workers as paralegals and peer educators to reach they fellow peers. This can easly address Violation of their fundamental rights and HIV/AIDS infection

Great initiative. The police have often committeed crimes in the process of maintaining public order. They have found themselves seeking bribes from arrested citisens, seeking sexual favours from abused women conceived as sexual pundits. This program of public support to sexual workers must go on. It has to move into other sectors where police have created their secret cash cows like the conbi drivers. They need to be grouped as well like sex workers and lobbied to catch the corrupt police officers ...and creat order and normalcy in our Open Society.

The creation of a paralegal office by these sex workers is a good initiative because they deserve some humane treatment even as sex workers. The unfortunate thing is that most of these girls got pushed in this social deviant behavior because of lack of educational opportunities and economic hardship

Thank you, Elizabeth, for your comment. The motivations for pursuing sex work are very diverse and not necessarily different from the motivations to pursue other forms of work. Lack of other work opportunities and poverty might play a role for some sex workers, but these are by no means the sole reasons people decide to do sex work.

In as much as we should be discouraging illegal or commercial sex, which is somehow difficult, we as Civil Society Actors, should create the necessary awareness on their rights.They sohould be aware of the law that protect them . That will also safeguard them against some of the violations they go through in the hands of law enforcement officers.

Thank you, Varney, for your comment. At Open Society we believe that one of the best approaches to promoting and protecting the human rights of sex workers is to decriminalize sex work. A fundamental problem with criminalization is that it leads to impunity for crimes against sex workers. Not only do many sex workers choose not to report abuses to the police for fear of arrest or harassment, but in many places law enforcement – the very people who are meant to protect society – are among the most common perpetrators of violence against sex workers.

This is the greatest achievement in the fight for equality. I wish to see more sex workers as paralegals. Women of Power Initiative(WOPI) is looking for her capacity to be built around this.

Thanks so much girls. We must win this battle.

Sex becomes an occupation? it is rather tripartite.

Dear Sebastian:

Thanks so much for this video. We have a multi-stakeholder group here in San Francisco that is looking at policies that will support sex workers to report violent crime. This video also inspired a conversation about expanding peer advocacy. Could we possibly connect with you to hear more about other examples in the US like SA? Thanks!

I believe the health outreaches are provided by TB/HIV Care Association.

I am delighted to see sexworkers trying to assert as individuals, as women and as sexworkers, which is the way to go. sex and Sexuality of each individual is unique and state should not interfere in any manner.State and the police is required only when there is an sexual offence or crime against a woman/man/child, in otherwords consenting sex between adults should not be viewed as a problem, and sexworkers should not be criminalized for sex. I am a strong supporter of sexworker's movement, ALL THE BEST

Brillant! Empowerment & Enablement for Women at risk from male dominance and poverty. I will share this here in Luton, Bedfordshire, UK with agencies who support sex workers. Thanks : )

ITS INHUMAN THAT MEN DO CRIME BY ABUSING WOMEN. EVEN HERE I SOUTH AFRICA THE MEANS OF SEX WORKERS IS VERY HUGE AND RISK TO THE WOMEN, BT AT SOME INSISTANCE THIS WILL BE THE MOTIVE THAT THERE IS LACK OF EMPLOYMENT AND NO FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILTY TO THE FAMILIES. ALL THE CERTIZEN DESERVE TO BE TRAETED IN HUMAN DIGNITY AND HAVE RIGHT TO LIFE EVEN THE BETTER LIFE FOR BY (TATA NELSON MADIBA MANDELA) PEOPLE SHOULD BE TREAT AS HUMAN, ACCESS THE THE HUMAN RIGHTS.

Rights are important and become more enjoyable when exercised and it do not infringed and disturbed others.
Sex is natural and the whole system of man have work to do, but mind you let everything be done respectfully and within the armpit of the Law.

I guess I don't really understand this because if these women don't want to feel the way they are why are they doing the job that they are. I mean everyone has a choice good or bad and I guess the thing is no matter how bad things get there are jobs school or no school no matter where you are in the world. ~kiki~

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