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This Ruling On Sex Work In South Africa Is Bad For HIV Prevention

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Friday, June 2nd, 2017
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Numerous sex work, public health and gender advocacy organisations have expressed dismay at the recommendations of the long-awaited report on sex work compiled by the South African Law Reform Commission.

The report recommends that consensual adult sex work continue to be criminalized or alternatively, that partial criminalisation is implemented. Partial criminalisation would mean that the sex worker is not criminalized.

The report was compiled by Judge Mandisa Maya, Judge Jody Kollapen, Professor Vinodh Jaichand, Irvin Lawrence, Advocate Mahlape Sello and Namhla Siwendu.

Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) questioned whether the release of the report now, after having delayed its release for many years, was simply a “smoke screen or a PR stunt on the part of the Department of Justice who are scrambling to defend themselves in light of reports of increased femicide and violence against women”.

The report states: “Prostitution in South Africa can also be viewed as an aspect of male violence against women and children. South Africa is grappling with high levels of violence against women, with sexual assault and intimate partner violence contributing to increased risks for HIV infection. Changing the legislative framework could create an extremely dangerous cultural shift juxtaposed against the high numbers of sexual crimes already committed against women. Women would be considered even more expendable than at present.”

The report also says that exploitation “seems inherent in prostitution and depends on the external factors of gender violence, inequality and poverty”. The Commission believes that changing the current legislative framework would “not significantly alter” sex workers being exposed to violence and exploitation. Instead, they state that a shift away from criminalisation would cause an increase in child prostitution and would increase the demand for sex workers.

“The Commission is aware that criminalising demand will not end prostitution, but believes this step would significantly reduce prostitution because it would target the demand which drives the selling of sexual services,” it states.

“Diversion” programmes are recommended for sex workers as an alternative to punitive measures such as imprisonment or fines. These punitive measures would be considered if the sex worker “refuses to co-operate regarding rehabilitation, training and reintegration”.

“Too little, too late”

For years, sex workers and their supporters have been campaigning for the decriminalisation of sex work. Activists hoped that the report would recommend the decriminalisation of sex work as in 2011 this appeared to be the direction the report was taking.

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