Page 1

Panel Question: Is Prostitution Work and Is It a Choice? Speech by Navi Pillay, Cape Town, June 21st (approx 15 mins) I join this roundtable to talk about the human rights aspect of prostitution policy - and what I think is the best legal model to apply here in South Africa in terms of not only gender equality, but also considering the other issues we face such as racism post-Apartheid, poverty .and violence against women. In answering whether prostitution is work - and if it’s a choice - it is important to have the full picture of how entry into the sex trade typically happens. Although South Africa lacks research in this area, from my many years of experience working with the issue it is clear that most come from poor or disadvantaged communities. I was a young patient at the King Edward viii Hospital, a public hospital , in the 1960’s when I talked with hundreds of Black women prostitutes who came in for medical treatment over the weekend after working the streets during week nights. Most had attempted unsafe abortions and the doctors saved them from death and protected them from prosecution . Not a single one of them told me they chose to prostitute themselves . They said they were forced by circumstances to do so. Apartheid has ended but prostitution continues to reflect a form of economic, gender and racial apartheid, as most South African women in the trade are also black. In prostitution black women are considered to be objects that can be used for sexual exploitation by privileged, often white men. In addition to this, entry to prostitution is most commonly made as a way out of poverty, which is of course also bound up with race - and of course privilege or, more specifically, the lack of it. There is no choice involved and as many sex trade survivors say ‘you do not choose prostitution, it chooses you’. Despite efforts to normalise it and supposedly reduce “harm” there is no way to make the sex trade safe. It is not work and is certainly not a ‘job like any other’. Violence is part and parcel of the prostitution, whether it’s carried out by buyers, or brothel-owners, or pimps or the police. And in almost every case the person at the receiving end of this violence is a woman or girl from a less privileged background. At a fundamental level prostitution is an affront to gender equality. It is caused by inequality, but it also perpetuates it. It is impossible to talk about legislation surrounding it without recognising the patriarchal context of the system of prostitution. It is also impossible to talk about this system of prostitution as work - or even as compatible with fundamental human rights. The rights to equality, safety, to be free from torture, slavery, freedom of thought and conscience are among those that are impossible for women caught up in the sex trade to realise. Until the late nineties there were really only two approaches to prostitution laws - full criminalisation or full legalisation or decriminalisation. The first way was to criminalise the entire sex trade - including pimping, brothel owning, buying sex - but also, incredibly, people


in prostitution - those who are exploited by its very existence. This is what continues to exist in South Africa, and which we can all hopefully agree has not worked. The other option was legalisation or decriminalisation, which in practice are two sides of the same coin. Germany and the Netherlands both legalised prostitution in the early 2000s. I am sure that the intentions for this were good but both countries are now starting to backtrack. They are in effect “failed experiments” and women have been harmed. In Germany we have seen only 44 out of over 400,000 people in prostitution actually register for welfare benefits. The German sex trade has been called a ‘giant teutonic brothel’ by The Economist, which “services” over 1 million men each day. In a similar vein the Netherlands is now backtracking from its 2000 law, which sees entire streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light district filled with poverty-stricken women from Eastern European countries. They often do not speak Dutch or English. It is common knowledge that in the Netherlands and elsewhere, as standards of living and opportunities for women have risen, the number of national women in prostitution has fallen, leading to the “import” of women from other less developed parts of the world to satisfy the demand for legalised prostitution. Prostitution and sex trafficking are directly linked. While not all women in prostitution are sex trafficking victims, all sex trafficking victims are sold into prostitution. Amsterdam is also a hub of international sex trafficking, while countries like Sweden where it is illegal to buy sex are seen by traffickers as less attractive destinations, for obvious reasons. If you can’t legally sell women for prostitution in a country, you would be less likely to traffic them there for sale when you can traffic them to countries where selling women in prostitution is legal. New Zealand then tried to decriminalise the sex trade in 2003, which meant at the time that no laws would specifically exist to regulate the sex trade. However, some laws do exist, so in effect that country has become more of a ‘legalised’ model too. Even its ex Prime Minister John Key has said in 2012 that the approach was a failure and did nothing to stem the exploitation of minors in prostitution. Of course this approach also means that since prostitution is supposedly a job like any other it is not possible to help women exit - nor is it possible for them to be given specific assistance for the violence which is inherent in the sex trade. This approach conceals the violence and abuse experienced by people in prostitution, but it also benefits pimps, brothel owners and buyers - the exploitative elements of the sex trade. Another key issue I would like to respond to is the assertion that prostitution should be called "sex work". This is absolutely erroneous. “Sex work” as a term does not exist in international law or in our official language in South Africa. It is not used anywhere in international law. Nor does it exist for people in prostitution. It is a term which is only used by people with vested interests in perpetuating the sex trade - or by those who inaccurately call for the system of prostitution to be fully decriminalised. Prostitution is not work, it is abuse. It is often suggested that people in prostitution are akin to “miners or foreign domestic workers.” Prostitution is radically different from mining and


domestic work in a fundamental way. It is a bodily invasion that most people do not consider a job option or a form of labour like any other. In most countries, for example, unemployment benefits require that recipients be willing to accept available work. Consider, as they did in Germany, whether this concept applies to prostitution and requires anyone who is unemployed to choose between the loss of benefits and work in the commercial sex industry. If we propose that we should not require women to be willing to engage in available “sex work” as a condition of unemployment assistance, then maybe we should also see that prostitution is NOT just like any other work and should not be considered in the same light. We all support the decriminalisation of people in prostitution. But under full decriminalisation “buying or selling” of sex is treated equally. But in reality this is not the case. For the most part women are sold for sex by third party profiteers - pimps or traffickers who treat women in the same way they treat guns and drugs: as objects for sale. Unlike guns and drugs, women can be sold again and again, making prostitution and sex trafficking a multi-billion dollar industry with great incentive to legalise as much of the trade as possible. No doubt we will sometimes hear that some women sell themselves in prostitution. This is true, and I would urge you to think about why this happens, although it describes only a small subset of women in prostitution who are over 18 at the time of their entry and independently sell themselves without the intervention of a pimp or trafficker who effectively controls them and the proceeds derived. These proceeds may take a nonmonetary form. We have all seen the outrageous stories of UN personnel trading food for sex, often to young girls. Does it really matter whether these girls are 17 or 19? Aptly called “survival sex,” these transactions can hardly be represented as an example of free will, though technically they might be called “consensual.” Is this what South African society wants to endorse? Ask yourself if almost all (or all) prostitution might be seen as some form of survival sex. The human right I see in this universe is not the right to prostitution but the right NOT to be prostituted as the only means of survival. What kind of choice is it if you don’t have any other choice? Maybe the real human rights involved here are the rights to education and employment, and to sex equality, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and our Constitution, rather than the right to choose prostitution. Recall that in many countries it is illegal to sell your kidney – an operation arguably less harmful than the harm of prostitution, which has been documented to cause post-traumatic stress disorder at a higher rate than military combat. Unlike the sellers of sex, who have little or no choice, the buyers of sex have all the choice in the world. Buying a woman (or man) for sex is a purely voluntary choice. Is patronizing prostitution really the same as “survival sex,” or is it possible that these buyers, virtually all men, are treating those whom they buy in a manner that is “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person,” the principle underlying the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This Convention on prostitution and human trafficking, which starts with the understanding that “prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of


prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.” The UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was not intended to include prostitution either in its conception of gainful employment or safe and healthy working conditions. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been interpreted often by the CEDAW Committee to include demand for prostitution. It has called on many countries, including Botswana, Denmark, Fiji, and the Republic of Korea, to address the exploitation of prostitution, “including by discouraging the demand for prostitution”. Two decades ago the South African Law Reform Commission was asked to explore law reform in relation to “adult prostitution” in South Africa and not “adult sex work”. This is the context that I would like to discuss today. I would like to turn now to what we know does work - and which I believe is the only approach which South Africa should choose. In terms of laws and policies we need to dismantle the system of prostitution to ensure that all South Africans can enjoy their human rights. Those countries which have understood the need for laws and policies to reflect gender equality as a basic tenet are those which have done best in terms of sex trade policy law. In 1999 Sweden pioneered a brand new approach, which was based on the principle of gender equality. This criminalised only the exploitative elements of the sex trade - pimping, brothel-owning and buying sex - but importantly decriminalised people in prostitution and provided them with exiting services and support. This was revolutionary at the time and saw a fall in half of on-street prostitution. It also went on to change mindsets and now far less men consider it acceptable to buy sexual access to a woman’s body. Norway and Iceland followed suit in 2009 and 2010. It is no coincidence that these three of the four countries which rank highest in the world in terms of gender equality use this approach which was initially called the Swedish, then the Nordic, and now the Abolitionist or Equality Model. More recently Canada, Northern Ireland, France and the Republic of Ireland have adopted this approach. Of course it is not a fix-all and training police and the public can be an uphill battle. Here in South Africa, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge from Embrace Dignity and other groups including brave sex trade survivors such as Mickey Meji - have also worked for many years to get us to change old colonial practices. As Nozizwe said earlier the South African Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Hon. Michael Masutha released the SALRC Report in May 2017 which proposes two different legal solutions to sex trade policy - either continued criminalisation or the Equality Model.


In terms of the human rights of South African women only the Equality Model aligns with both our constitution and also with the Recommendations of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of the Legislative Framework, of which I was a member. This is not an issue of morality as is often suggested - it is an issue of human rights. I am hopeful that the Minister will agree with me on this. (Note: He does) I know that people in prostitution would never benefit from the oppressive regime of either full criminalisation - or full decriminalisation, as the recent report on police brutality against prostitutes reveals. Sex trade survivors and activists all want women in prostitution to be fully decriminalised, but doing the same for pimps, brothel-keepers and buyers would only further conceal the enormous amount of abuse and violence that these mainly disadvantaged women face on a daily basis and adopt the Equality Model and ensure that South Africa is the first African country to enact this increasingly global approach to prostitution policy. What a proud moment that would be for South Africans.The task of the Commission was to find a law that would effectively curb prostitution and address high HIV prevalence in the sex trade, improve access to health, justice and provide support services for those who are in prostitution. As the SALRC report determined total decriminalisation does none of these things. The Equality Model is the only approach which recognises the power imbalance in the sex industry by decriminalising and providing exiting services and support to women in prostitution, while criminalising pimping, brothel-keeping and buying sex. By adapting this model to the specific South African context we can start to improve the lives of our women and girls who have been coerced - either physically or economically - into the trade. This approach is the progressive wave of the future, offering a third way for those who want to decriminalise women in prostitution without legitimising the men who buy them. Getting this right is vitally important and I hope our government will respond to the SALRC recommendation This is about the future of South Africans - especially the poor, the disadvantaged and black girls and women. It is about making sure that every single person in this nation is valued and treated equally. That is something I hope we would all want to work towards. Thank you.


Why I Resigned from the South African “Sex Work” Movement By: Mickey Meji June 12, 2018 DEVELOPMENT, GENDER SHARE

Like many women in South Africa with first-hand experience of the sex trade, when I initially joined the Sisonke Movement of Sex Workers I was under the false impression that it was there to represent me in advocating for my rights as a woman who was selling sex. I have since found that this is not what the movement stands for at all. I have not been associated with it for many years but was informed last week that I need to “officially resign” so it no longer counts me as part of its group. On Friday I did exactly that – as did several other women I know who have first-hand experience of prostitution.


I personally entered the sex trade out of desperation. South Africa’s colonial past, apartheid, poverty, past sexual and physical abuse and other inequalities were the context for this. Prostitution is never a free “choice”. The majority of women who enter it here are poor black women from disadvantaged backgrounds. They did so primarily because of a lack of choice. The vast majority of women in prostitution do not view it as “work”, but rather as a tortured means of survival. Pretty much everyone wants to get out as quickly as possible. Instead of acknowledging this harsh reality Sisonke promotes, advocates and calls for the total decriminalisation of the sex trade and its recognition as work. This means decriminalising not only people selling sex but also those who buy and exploit us and those who sell us for their financial benefit. This model has failed in New Zealand where trafficking continues to prosper, and where violence against girls and women in prostitution is concealed as it is considered to be “a job like any other”. This ignores the mounting evidence that women in prostitution experience vast human rights violations including rape, physical violence, dehumanisation and murder by the men who buy us. We are further victimised by the pimps and brothel-owners who sell us for their financial benefit – and by the police as people who are sold for sex are still considered criminals under South African law. The movement for total decriminalisation of the sex trade does not recognise the growing global trend in a different direction. Despite the mounting evidence that it is the only approach that has been shown to reduce violence and bring us closer to gender equality Sisonke does not support the Swedish or “Equality” Model, which decriminalises, supports and provides exiting services to those who sell sex, but simultaneously criminalises the exploitative elements – brothel-owners, pimps and buyers. Over the last 20 years countries including Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Canada, Northern Ireland, France and Ireland have all adopted the Equality Model of sex trade policy. This has been largely in response to the efforts of sex trade survivors, supported by national and international women’s groups.


One of the biggest lies of the “sex work” movement of which Sisonke is part of is that they do not represent the best interests of women in prostitution at all. “Sex work” is a misnomer that people in prostitution do not use. It is also a very broad term and includes not only those selling or sold for sex but also every single person with any connection to the sex trade – including those who pimp and run brothels. The fact that Sisonke proposes full decriminalisation shows that it prioritises the desires of these perpetrators of abuse over those who are directly affected. This worrying trend is not just South African. It has reared its ugly head in various places. Groups which pretend to advocate for women in prostitution – but in reality support pimps, brothelowners and buyers – have increased their presence throughout the world. They have linked themselves with official reports from UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation, and have directly influenced the policies of non-women’s-rights advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International. As somebody who continues to fight for the rights of women caught up in the sex trade it is devastating for me to see how our lives, safety and well-being are being compromised by those very groups who claim to represent us. Sex trade survivors know which approach works best – the Equality Model, which was also one of the recommendations of the South African Law Reform Commission’s Report published last June. We will no longer accept other people speaking for us and using our misfortune to benefit themselves. We are building our own global movement and we will not be silenced any longer.

Mickey Meji is the Advocacy Manager for Embrace Dignity, an organisation which works to end commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in South Africa.

Op-Ed


A South African trans woman’s tempestuous journey through sex trafficking to survival ‘My experience in prostitution — a spider web of danger — included sleeping in abandoned buildings and being raped by organized crime gangsters’ AYANDA DENGE 07.02.18

AYANDA DENGE.

My mother died in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, when I was just 12 years old. I was the youngest of three boys. I was devastated. I felt very alone, confused and desperate. My brothers and I were “each man for himself,” so I was alone trying to navigate survival every day. That summer I went to the beach in Durban. In the shower house, a man asked me to wash his back and then for sex. Afterwards, he bought me ice cream and gave me 20 rands. It occurred to me that I could do this to eat, so I hung around public toilets being bought by men as a way not to starve.


At 16, I left Port Elizabeth to go to Johannesburg. I believed that it would offer greener pastures, that a man would marry me and that I could be safe. Around that time I started cross-dressing to maintain a female persona and soon began to identify as a trans woman. But Johannesburg was rough. The streets were dangerous and my journey in prostitution included sleeping in abandoned buildings and being raped by gangsters of the organized criminal networks. Every day, you were caught in a spider web of danger. I was high most of the time and was always desperate for money to support my drug habit. On the outside I seemed happy, but inside I was broken, alone and fragile. Although apartheid is over and we’re supposed to be free, while in prostitution I felt like a dog whose legs had been chained. That’s what the sex trade does to you: You feel you have no way out. Most of the men who paid for me were white and privileged. The sexual acts they performed on me were so gruesome that I can still vividly recall the pain I endured. You can’t take a needle and thread to mend the heart. The money evaporates very quickly, but the scars are lifelong. After moving on to Cape Town in 2011, my health started to decline. I noticed an abnormal growth developing on my legs, which became very itchy and heavy. I went for a check-up and was diagnosed with Kaposi Sarcoma cancer, a complication of HIV, which I already knew I had contracted. I started chemotherapy, which proved to be rather unbearable. I was hospitalized, bedridden with cancer and lung failure. I also suffered a stroke. It was around this time that a caregiver suggested I contact the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT).


During the first meeting at SWEAT, I saw many faces I recognized. It was a relief. I felt connected at last. They talked about total decriminalization of prostitution — a model that is used in New Zealand. People in prostitution are decriminalized, but so too are pimps, brothel-owners and sex buyers. They said we would be safe from the police if the sex trade was decriminalized. At the time, that sounded like a very attractive proposition, so I became a mobilizer and outreach coordinator for SWEAT. I worked there for about a year and a half distributing condoms and lubricants on the streets and received a stipend. Later, I became Acting Chair of the Board of SWEAT Cape Town for three months. As time went on, I started asking myself about the pipeline to prostitution and how it was never-ending. Something wasn’t connecting anymore. I began to feel that we were spoon-fed and indoctrinated by white privileged academics who had no knowledge of what the inhumane working conditions we had to experience were really like. I started comparing who was in leadership, who was on the streets, who was developing the messaging of “sex work” and how funds were being used. SWEAT only gave us one sex trade policy model to consider — full decriminalization. They kept insisting that “sex work” was an employment package. When I read more about the different legal frameworks, I realized that SWEAT had never given us an overview of other approaches. Its mission also did not include exit programs or alternative employment opportunities. Once, when I was still in the sex trade, one of the sisters I knew was sent back on the streets by her pimp five days after she gave birth. She still had stitches but needed to provide for her pimp and her newborn. I asked myself and others at a SWEAT board meeting whether they could put themselves in her shoes and whether they would characterize this as work. Soon after that I resigned. I am now 36. My wish is to lead a trans movement across South Africa and beyond, which aims to abolish the sex


trade. I want to write a book about my journey. I want change. I want the free and fair South Africa for which Nelson Mandela fought. I want the South African government to decriminalize and provide support to people in prostitution, but make buying sex illegal. This is known as the Nordic Model or Equality Model of sex trade policy, which has already been successful in several European countries and in Canada. That’s the only way people like me will be able to find our way out. Many of my friends have died in prostitution, but I am a survivor — in many ways. I survived the sex trade, HIV, being shot, cancer, and a stroke. I want to become hope for those voiceless other victims who endured — or are still enduring — the same unbearable circumstances that I have survived. Ayanda Denge is a sex trade survivor and works with Embrace Dignity , an organization that ends commercial sexual exploitation in South Africa. Panel Question: Is Prostitution Work and Is It a Choice? Speech by Navi Pillay, Cape Town, June 21st (approx 15 mins)

I join this roundtable to talk about the human rights aspect of prostitution policy - and what I think is the best legal model to apply here in South Africa in terms of not only gender equality, but also considering the other issues we face such as racism post-Apartheid, poverty .and violence against women. In answering whether prostitution is work - and if it’s a choice - it is important to have the full picture of how entry into the sex trade typically happens. Although South Africa lacks research in this area, from my many years of experience working with the issue it is clear that most come from poor or disadvantaged communities. I was a young patient at the King Edward viii Hospital, a public hospital , in the 1960’s when I talked with hundreds of Black women prostitutes who came in for medical treatment over the weekend after working the streets during week nights. Most had attempted unsafe abortions and the doctors saved them from death and protected them from prosecution . Not a single one of them told me they chose to prostitute themselves . They said they were forced by circumstances to do so.


Apartheid has ended but prostitution continues to reflect a form of economic, gender and racial apartheid, as most South African women in the trade are also black. In prostitution black women are considered to be objects that can be used for sexual exploitation by privileged, often white men. In addition to this, entry to prostitution is most commonly made as a way out of poverty, which is of course also bound up with race - and of course privilege or, more specifically, the lack of it. There is no choice involved and as many sex trade survivors say ‘you do not choose prostitution, it chooses you’. Despite efforts to normalise it and supposedly reduce “harm” there is no way to make the sex trade safe. It is not work and is certainly not a ‘job like any other’. Violence is part and parcel of the prostitution, whether it’s carried out by buyers, or brothel-owners, or pimps or the police. And in almost every case the person at the receiving end of this violence is a woman or girl from a less privileged background. At a fundamental level prostitution is an affront to gender equality. It is caused by inequality, but it also perpetuates it. It is impossible to talk about legislation surrounding it without recognising the patriarchal context of the system of prostitution. It is also impossible to talk about this system of prostitution as work - or even as compatible with fundamental human rights. The rights to equality, safety, to be free from torture, slavery, freedom of thought and conscience are among those that are impossible for women caught up in the sex trade to realise. Until the late nineties there were really only two approaches to prostitution laws - full criminalisation or full legalisation or decriminalisation. The first way was to criminalise the entire sex trade - including pimping, brothel owning, buying sex - but also, incredibly, people in prostitution - those who are exploited by its very existence. This is what continues to exist in South Africa, and which we can all hopefully agree has not worked. The other option was legalisation or decriminalisation, which in practice are two sides of the same coin. Germany and the Netherlands both legalised prostitution in the early 2000s. I am sure that the intentions for this were good but both countries are now starting to backtrack. They are in effect “failed experiments” and women have been harmed. In Germany we have seen only 44 out of over 400,000 people in prostitution actually register for welfare benefits. The German sex trade has


been called a ‘giant teutonic brothel’ by The Economist, which “services” over 1 million men each day. In a similar vein the Netherlands is now backtracking from its 2000 law, which sees entire streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light district filled with poverty-stricken women from Eastern European countries. They often do not speak Dutch or English. It is common knowledge that in the Netherlands and elsewhere, as standards of living and opportunities for women have risen, the number of national women in prostitution has fallen, leading to the “import” of women from other less developed parts of the world to satisfy the demand for legalised prostitution. Prostitution and sex trafficking are directly linked. While not all women in prostitution are sex trafficking victims, all sex trafficking victims are sold into prostitution. Amsterdam is also a hub of international sex trafficking, while countries like Sweden where it is illegal to buy sex are seen by traffickers as less attractive destinations, for obvious reasons. If you can’t legally sell women for prostitution in a country, you would be less likely to traffic them there for sale when you can traffic them to countries where selling women in prostitution is legal. New Zealand then tried to decriminalise the sex trade in 2003, which meant at the time that no laws would specifically exist to regulate the sex trade. However, some laws do exist, so in effect that country has become more of a ‘legalised’ model too. Even its ex Prime Minister John Key has said in 2012 that the approach was a failure and did nothing to stem the exploitation of minors in prostitution. Of course this approach also means that since prostitution is supposedly a job like any other it is not possible to help women exit - nor is it possible for them to be given specific assistance for the violence which is inherent in the sex trade. This approach conceals the violence and abuse experienced by people in prostitution, but it also benefits pimps, brothel owners and buyers - the exploitative elements of the sex trade. Another key issue I would like to respond to is the assertion that prostitution should be called "sex work". This is absolutely erroneous. “Sex work” as a term does not exist in international law or in our official language in South Africa. It is not used anywhere in international law. Nor does it exist for people in prostitution. It is a term which is only used by people with vested interests in perpetuating the sex trade - or by those who inaccurately call for the system of prostitution to be fully decriminalised.


Prostitution is not work, it is abuse. It is often suggested that people in prostitution are akin to “miners or foreign domestic workers.” Prostitution is radically different from mining and domestic work in a fundamental way. It is a bodily invasion that most people do not consider a job option or a form of labour like any other. In most countries, for example, unemployment benefits require that recipients be willing to accept available work. Consider, as they did in Germany, whether this concept applies to prostitution and requires anyone who is unemployed to choose between the loss of benefits and work in the commercial sex industry. If we propose that we should not require women to be willing to engage in available “sex work” as a condition of unemployment assistance, then maybe we should

also see that prostitution is NOT just like any other work and should not be considered in the same light. We all support the decriminalisation of people in prostitution. But under full decriminalisation “buying or selling” of sex is treated equally. But in reality this is not the case. For the most part women are sold for sex by third party profiteers - pimps or traffickers who treat women in the same way they treat guns and drugs: as objects for sale. Unlike guns and drugs, women can be sold again and again, making prostitution and sex trafficking a multi-billion dollar industry with great incentive to legalise as much of the trade as possible. No doubt we will sometimes hear that some women sell themselves in prostitution. This is true, and I would urge you to think about why this happens, although it describes only a small subset of women in prostitution who are


over 18 at the time of their entry and independently sell themselves without the intervention of a pimp or trafficker who effectively controls them and the proceeds derived. These proceeds may take a non-monetary form. We have all seen the outrageous stories of UN personnel trading food for sex, often to young girls. Does it really matter whether these girls are 17 or 19? Aptly called “survival sex,” these transactions can hardly be represented as an example of free will, though technically they might be called “consensual.” Is this what South African society wants to endorse? Ask yourself if almost all (or all) prostitution might be seen as some form of survival sex. The human right I see in this universe is not the right to prostitution but the right NOT to be prostituted as the only means of survival. What kind of choice is it if you don’t have any other choice? Maybe the real human rights involved here are the rights to education and employment, and to sex equality, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and our Constitution, rather than the right to choose prostitution. Recall that in many countries it is illegal to sell your kidney – an operation arguably less harmful than the harm of prostitution, which has been documented to cause post-traumatic stress disorder at a higher rate than military combat. Unlike the sellers of sex, who have little or no choice, the buyers of sex have all the choice in the world. Buying a woman (or man) for sex is a purely voluntary choice. Is patronizing prostitution really the same as “survival sex,” or is it possible that these buyers, virtually all men, are treating those whom they buy in a manner that is “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person,” the principle underlying the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This Convention on prostitution and human trafficking, which starts with the understanding that “prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.” The UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was not intended to include prostitution either in its conception of gainful employment or safe and healthy working conditions. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been interpreted often by the CEDAW Committee to include demand for prostitution. It has called on many countries, including


Botswana, Denmark, Fiji, and the Republic of Korea, to address the exploitation of prostitution, “including by discouraging the demand for prostitution”. Two decades ago the South African Law Reform Commission was asked to explore law reform in relation to “adult prostitution” in South Africa and not “adult sex work”. This is the context that I would like to discuss today. I would like to turn now to what we know does work - and which I believe is the only approach which South Africa should choose. In terms of laws and policies we need to dismantle the system of prostitution to ensure that all South Africans can enjoy their human rights. Those countries which have understood the need for laws and policies to reflect gender equality as a basic tenet are those which have done best in terms of sex trade policy law. In 1999 Sweden pioneered a brand new approach, which was based on the principle of gender equality. This criminalised only the exploitative elements of the sex trade - pimping, brothel-owning and buying sex - but importantly decriminalised people in prostitution and provided them with exiting services and support. This was revolutionary at the time and saw a fall in half of onstreet prostitution. It also went on to change mindsets and now far less men consider it acceptable to buy sexual access to a woman’s body. Norway and Iceland followed suit in 2009 and 2010. It is no coincidence that these three of the four countries which rank highest in the world in terms of gender equality use this approach which was initially called the Swedish, then the Nordic, and now the Abolitionist or Equality Model. More recently Canada, Northern Ireland, France and the Republic of Ireland have adopted this approach. Of course it is not a fix-all and training police and the public can be an uphill battle. Here in South Africa, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge from Embrace Dignity and other groups - including brave sex trade survivors such as Mickey Meji - have also worked for many years to get us to change old colonial practices. As Nozizwe said earlier the South African Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Hon. Michael Masutha released the SALRC Report in May 2017


which proposes two different legal solutions to sex trade policy - either continued criminalisation - or the Equality Model. In terms of the human rights of South African women only the Equality Model aligns with both our constitution and also with the Recommendations of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of the Legislative Framework, of which I was a member. This is not an issue of morality as is often suggested - it is an issue of human rights. I am hopeful that the Minister will agree with me on this. (Note: He does) I know that people in prostitution would never benefit from the oppressive regime of either full criminalisation - or full decriminalisation, as the recent report on police brutality against prostitutes reveals. Sex trade survivors and activists all want women in prostitution to be fully decriminalised, but doing the same for pimps, brothel-keepers and buyers would only further conceal the enormous amount of abuse and violence that these mainly disadvantaged women face on a daily basis. and adopt the Equality Model and ensure that South Africa is the first African country to enact this increasingly global approach to prostitution policy. What a proud moment that would be for South Africans.The task of the Commission was to find a law that would

effectively curb prostitution and address high HIV prevalence in the sex trade, improve access to health, justice and provide support services for those who are in prostitution. As the SALRC report determined total decriminalisation does none of these things. The Equality Model is the only approach which recognises the power imbalance in the sex industry by decriminalising and providing exiting services and support to women in prostitution, while criminalising pimping, brothelkeeping and buying sex. By adapting this model to the specific South African context we can start to improve the lives of our women and girls who have been coerced - either physically or economically - into the trade. This approach is the progressive wave of the future, offering a third way for those who want to decriminalise women in prostitution without legitimising the men who buy them. Getting this right is vitally important and I hope our government will respond to the SALRC recommendation This is about the future of South Africans - especially the poor, the disadvantaged and black girls and women. It is about making sure that every


single person in this nation is valued and treated equally. That is something I hope we would all want to work towards. Thank you.

Preadings Navi Pillay, Ayanda and Mickey  
Preadings Navi Pillay, Ayanda and Mickey  
Advertisement