Who Are We

“My friend, it is somebody that I knew, but it wasn’t somebody that I knew that could traffic me. It was a girl, it was a student, she was at UJ and I did not know that she had other plans of making money off me…” 

– Grizelda Grootboom on being trafficked and prostituted in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Watch Grizelda’s interview with News24

In 2010, Embrace Dignity, a South African NGO based in Cape Town, opened its doors with the purpose of empowering prostituted people like Grizelda and creating a legal and social environment that would support them and increase their options to exit rather than criminalise and stigmatise already victimized people.

Founded by Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former Deputy Minister of Health and Defence, and Jeremy Routledge, a former Director of the Quaker Peace Centre, we actively pursue and support a law on prostitution in South Africa that recognises that prostitution is violence against women, undermines gender equality and perpetuates patriarchy. We are advocating for a law that is based on the Nordic system – which criminalises the purchaser of sex and decriminalises the seller – but also recognises the impact of societal problems within South Africa, such as poverty, unemployment, poor education, and a high drop-out rate amongst learners on vulnerable persons.

Such a law would:

  • focus on the demand by criminalising the purchase of sex
  • support those who have been prostituted by decriminalising the sale of sex
  • provide support for those in prostitution to increase their skills and options for employment.
  • criminalise third parties that exploit and benefit from income made from prostitution.

This type of law has been referred to as the Swedish law, the Nordic law, the equality law or “the third way”.

We provide support to those who wish to exit prostitution mainly through referrals to counselling, skills training, small business development and education providers; by supporting survivor initiatives; and by building a survivor network. We are currently evaluating our Exit Programme so we can draw on our successes and failures and implement what works and share that information with others.

Our Public Education programme is aimed at creating awareness of the harms of prostitution and how communities and organisations can support survivors and prevent more persons from being prostituted into this system of commercialized sexual exploitation

“We believe that prostitution is exploitative, that it damages those being prostituted and that It is closely linked to violence against women and human trafficking.” – Embrace Dignity

Through our Advocacy law reform, Public Education, and Exit programmes we are able to:

  • pursue legal and policy reforms that focus on demand by criminalising the purchasing of sex
  • support survivors by decriminalising the selling of sex
  • address prevention by raising public awareness about the real harms and dangers of prostitution
  • provide prompt, appropriate and comprehensive support to those who wish to leave prostitution.

In addition, our Exit Programme empowers survivors through various interventions that develop their emotional and vocational skills and help them become self-reliant.

We partner with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) International (http://www.catwinternational.org/); the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP) International (http://www.cap-international.org/);  Equality Now (http://www.equalitynow.org/) and SPACE International (http://spaceinternational.ie/), which are international organisations working against prostitution and trafficking.

Our Vision

Our vision is to contribute to a South African society that embraces the dignity of all people as enshrined in our Constitution and opposes commercial and sexual exploitation of those made powerless and vulnerable by poverty or the absence of choice. We envision a society where law reform is used to reduce demand and supply of prostitution, government support is provided to empower survivors with skills to transform their lives and where public attitudes concerning prostitution are based on a proper understanding of the various ways in which people become prostituted or trafficked.

Our Mission

Embrace Dignity challenges power inequalities based on gender, class and race that lead to the oppression of vulnerable people through prostitution, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse by using a three-pronged approach focused on:

  • advocating and achieving law and policy reforms that decriminalise the victim and address the demand by criminalising the purchaser
  • shifting public attitudes from the blame of prostituted women and girls, towards an understanding of the conditions that lead to their vulnerability, a recognition of their inherent dignity and an improved public awareness of the harms and oppression of prostitution.
  • providing and campaigning for increased employment options for prostituted persons with the aim of enabling their exit from prostitution, and therefore reducing the harms they are exposed to.

Historical factors like racism, migrant labour, the denial of socio-economic opportunities, unemployment and the unequal power relations that still exist between men and women in South Africa, also inform how we address prostitution and sex trafficking in this country.

Our Values

We believe that all people have inherent dignity and deserve to live lives free from exploitation. By supporting victims of prostitution, addressing inequality and challenging patriarchy, racism, sexism, homophobia and all kinds of oppression, we are working towards an economic order and society that does not exploit and oppress any human being based on their economic status, social exclusion or marginalisation. While we assist all persons in prostitution, we predominantly work with women.

We believe that calling prostitution sex work legitimises it and disguises its inherent violence and harm. While women in the industry experience different degrees of abuse, coercion and violence, all of them are physically and psychologically harmed. There is no denying that prostitution and trafficking are intertwined, based on the commodification and objectification of human beings and sex.

We refer to the exploitative industry as prostitution and the people exploited as prostituted people. The women we work with choose to be referred to as Sisters.

“We have responded by saying that they easily could be our sisters, and in fact they are our sisters.” – Embrace Dignity

Our core values inform everything we do at Embrace Dignity and are focused on:

  • promoting the human rights of all persons,
  • showing respect to others,
  • being open and honest in our dealings with our beneficiaries and supporters,
  • being inclusive and thus diverse,
  • encouraging the participation of both staff and beneficiaries to inform the work we do, and
  • promoting equality, dignity and justice for persons being prostituted or trafficked.

These values are based on the fact that while the South African Constitution guarantees the basic human rights of all persons, in a society like ours, women are often still the victims of violence. Power also traditionally resides within the hands of men and women’s rights to freedom from violence, to work, and a life of dignity still need to be realised.