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Our 2020 achievements to date

In the first half of the year, Embrace Dignity has been involved in a range of activities and have reached a number of milestones as well.

EMBRACE DIGNITY ATTENDANCE AT KEY STRATEGIC ENGAGEMENTS

Embrace Dignity has attended and participated in the following key strategic engagements:

  • A webinar on Cross-Linkages between Human Trafficking and Pornography: Myth or Reality? which was organised by the OSCE office for democratic institutions and human rights and moderated by Tatiana Kotlyarenko, ODIHR Adviser on anti-human trafficking issues on 4 May 2020.
  • The virtual roundtable of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) which was held on 30 April 2020 and brought together survivor leaders from Argentina, the Netherlands, South Africa and the USA to discuss the effects of the global health crisis (COVID-19) on women in the sex trade. Mickey Meji was part of the panel and she spoke about how COVID-19 has affected prostituted women in South Africa.
  • On 13 March 2020 Embrace Dignity was part of the stakeholder consultation group on the National Gender Machinery Framework Consultation before the framework’s submission to cabinet for approval.
  • From 29 February to 2 March 2020, Embrace Dignity attended the CSW64 Consultation Meeting: Generation Equality in Boksburg to prepare the delegates for the main meeting in New York.
  • Embrace Dignity attended the Consultative Conference on Beijing +25-Pre CSW 64: Peaceful Societies, Access to Justice and Freedom from Violence from 10-12 February 2020 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Bellville. The event was hosted by Ilitha Labantu. Embrace Dignity partook in a panel discussion and facilitated a discussion group on the achievements by government and challenges with regards to the rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.
  • Embrace Dignity was part of the Generation Equality Task Team and participated in the drafting of the addendum on the South African Report Pre-CSW 64.

ENDORSEMENT OF OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA

Embrace Dignity endorsed an Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for support for NGOs during this COVID-19 pandemic which was organised by Marc Lubner, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Smile Foundation and CEO of Afrika Tikkun, Hedley Lewis, CEO of the Smile Foundation, Kelly du Plessis, CEO of Rare Diseases South Africa NPC, Lauren Pretorius, CEO of Campaigning For Cancer and Apex Leader at Community Constituency Covid-19 Front, and Cassey Chambers, Operations Director of the South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

APPOINTMENT OF NEW BOARD MEMBERS

The key role of the Embrace Dignity Board is to control and manage the affairs of the organisation. Embrace Dignity currently has 12 Board members.

The following Board members recently joined the Embrace Dignity family: Ms Linda Nodada (Chairperson of the Board), Dr Marcel van der Watt, and Ms Pam Ndaba. You can visit our Board members page to see their bios there.

CAPA UPDATE

The ultimate goal of the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution in Africa (CAPA) is to abolish the system of prostitution through the enforcement of the Abolitionist Equality Law in African countries as part of the global abolitionist movement. To date the CAPA charter has been signed by 350 individuals, with 129 signatures obtained online and 221 at events.

COVID-19 RELIEF EFFORTS

As an organisation, Embrace Dignity is committed to providing support to prostituted persons who have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Embrace Dignity has provided support through the distribution of food assistance parcels to help prostituted persons, partner organisations and other members of civil society, including students in tertiary institutions who have no financial support or income during this challenging time.

STAFF MOVEMENTS

We bolstered our capacity by appointing a Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Ursula Kotelana, effective from 4 May 2020. We are excited about this appointment and we look forward to the contribution she will make in growing our organisation.

EXIT SUPPORT

Embrace Dignity is currently working on a full database of exit service providers to further strengthen our Exit Programme.

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Message from our Executive Director

Embrace Dignity, like many other NGOs, currently finds itself in the middle of a worldwide health crisis that requires organisations to manage change and also draw on hope and the opportunities that has been unveiled by this crisis. 

When we started the year, we had no idea of the looming crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted on all of us globally. We have had to adapt our plans in response to the new conditions of working remotely and to ensure that operations continue. 

For us, this is a time of transition and change. As the founders of Embrace Dignity, Jeremy Routledge and I have taken the decision to retire and exit an organisation that we established and nurtured over many years. Embrace Dignity is an expression of our love for our fellow South Africans made tangible.

In 2017, the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) Final Report (Project 107) on Adult Prostitution was published. Click here to read more about the history of the SALRC Report. The Report proposes two draft bills: Partial Decriminalisation (where only those selling sex are decriminalised) and Total Criminalisation (the status quo in South Africa under prohibition).

Despite strong opposition calling for the total decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ as they call it, the international trend is towards the Abolitionist Equality Law, which targets the demand by criminalising the purchase of sex while those selling sex are decriminalised and supported to exit. We are proud to be driving efforts to see the passing of this law.

We are also delighted to see that government is listening to the calls to end all forms of gender-based violence, of which the system of prostitution is one of its worst forms. It has been shown beyond any doubt that the demand for paid sex drives sex trafficking. Our efforts to end sex trafficking will not succeed if we do not remove one of its key drivers – the system of prostitution.

All these efforts will continue under the incoming leadership. In January 2020, the Embrace Dignity Board appointed Advocate Phumla Dwane-Alpman as the Executive Director Designate. Having joined Embrace Dignity as a Board member in June 2019, Dwane-Alpman served as the Chairperson of the Board for six months before becoming the Executive Director Designate. She brings her much-needed legal mind and expertise to ED at this critical stage when government is finally on the road to amending the law on adult prostitution.

Sqhelo Tom was appointed as Chief Operations Officer in January 2020 and has proved to be a great asset for Embrace Dignity in his management of operations, finance and human resources, and in his role as Board Secretary. Ursula Kotelana was also appointed this year as our Parliamentary Liaison Officer to boost our work and engagement with parliament.

We have strengthened our Board with demographically representative members who bring a diverse set of skills to Embrace Dignity and originate from various regions in our country. The Board is led by our newly elected chairperson, Linda Nodada.

Embrace Dignity has also served as the incubation organisation for Kwanele (meaning “enough”), a movement of survivors of the sex trade, which was founded by Mickey Meji in 2017. Kwanele has brought an important voice to the public debate on the system of prostitution from the lived experiences of prostituted women from various regions in South Africa. Kwanele is currently restructuring itself and has established an interim steering committee to lead that process and prepare for our Annual General Meeting in June 2020.

We are also excited to announce the launch of the Kwanele Survivors Speak to provide an authentic voice from the trenches of the abolitionist movement. Hilda Tlou and Babalwa Puthumo launches the series in this issue of our newsletter. I invite you to give us feedback on the series by engaging with Kwanele National Coordinator, Thuli Mbete.

Last year, Embrace Dignity and Kwanele launched the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution in Africa (CAPA) Charter. The ultimate goal of CAPA is to abolish the system of prostitution by advocating for the adoption, successful enactment and enforcement of the Abolitionist Equality Law in African countries. In closing, I’d like to invite you to join this growing movement by signing the charter online and helping us promote the adoption of this law.

Best wishes

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge
Executive Director

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Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

When the nationwide lockdown, due to the COVID19 pandemic, was announced and declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 26 March 2020, Embrace Dignity (ED) was forced to close its offices to adhere to the lockdown regulations. As a result, this affected ED’s operations and required ED staff to start working remotely.

Presently, communication with the staff and the relevant stakeholders is being maintained through the use of technology such as social media platforms (WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) and other communication channels. Apart from continuously posting on platforms about the realities and harms of the system of prostitution and the need to enact the Abolitionist Equality Law in South Africa, we have also posted articles about how COVID-19 has affected prostituted persons.

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have exacerbated the conditions of prostituted women, especially those who are on chronic medication and have dependents that rely on them for financial support. ED has been working tirelessly to make sure that it offers support and that the human rights of prostituted persons are protected during this crisis.

There have been some interventions from government to provide rapid relief which has required partnerships with civil society to deal with the current crisis.  In order to find sustainable solutions, ED has been part of the following engagements with government and NGOs.

  • A webinar on COVID-19: A gendered perspective was hosted by the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities on 15 April 2020. The Minister in the Presidency: Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana Mashabane; Deputy Minister in the Presidency: Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize; and UN Women Representative, Ms Anne Githuku-Shongwe on behalf of the UN Gender Leadership Team, unpacked how the global COVID-19 pandemic affected women.
  • The South African National AIDS Council had a virtual roundtable discussion on 22 April 2020 on reducing the impact of COVID-19 on people living with HIV and TB.
  • On 23 April, we participated in a National Freedom Network (NFN) conference call with different stakeholders to discuss support, collaborations and partnerships.
  • The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) had a virtual roundtable on 30 April 2020, gathering survivor leaders from Argentina, the Netherlands, South Africa and the USA to discuss the effects of the global health crisis (COVID-19) on women in the sex trade. Ms Mickey Meji from ED partook in the panel discussions and spoke about how COVID-19 has affected prostituted women in South Africa.
  • A webinar on Cross-Linkages between Human Trafficking and Pornography: Myth or Reality? was held on 4 May 2020. It was organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and moderated by Tatiana Kotlyarenko, an Adviser on Anti-Human Trafficking Issues from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights  (ODIHR). Speakers included Swedish Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons, Per-Anders Sunesson; Rapporteur for Human Trafficking and Slavery of the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid at the German Bundestag, MP Frank Heinrich; Adviser on Children’s Online Safety at the office of the Vice Prime-Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation in the Ukraine, Anastasiya Dzyakava; and Founder and Vice President of Mentari and survivor leader, Shandra Woworuntu.
  • We endorsed an Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for support for NGOs during this COVID-19 pandemic organised by Marc Lubner, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Smile Foundation and CEO of Afrika Tikkun; Hedley Lewis, CEO of the Smile Foundation; Kelly du Plessis, CEO of Rare Diseases South Africa NPC; Lauren Pretorius, CEO of Campaigning For Cancer and Apex Leader at Community Constituency Covid-19 Front; and Cassey Chambers, the Operations Director of the South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

We have also collaborated with NGOs and some political officials from the City of Cape Town, such as Councilor Sumaya Taliep, to provide short-term food security relief in the form of food parcels to prostituted women and their families in disadvantaged communities in Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and Mfuleni townships.

ED has also applied for funding to provide relief during the lockdown period for Kwanele members and has thus far received a positive response from the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID). Kwanele is a survivor-led movement of survivors of the system of prostitution advocating for the successful enactment and implementation of the Abolitionist Equality Law in South Africa. Approximately 250 food parcels were dispatched to the ED offices on 8 May 2020 and will be distributed to the Kwanele members in the Western Cape, ED partners, and other relevant stakeholders within civil society.

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Responding to EFF MP Naledi Chirwa’s “sex work is work” statement By Babalwa Puthumo



I am a survivor of the system of prostitution and I know for sure that the system of prostitution is a form of gender-based violence. The sexual violence and abuse I experienced are the reasons that I will never see prostitution as real work but rather as a means of survival especially in South Africa where we have high levels of poverty and unemployment.

This is why I think EFF Member of Parliament Naledi Chirwa’s “sex work is work” statement is not only dangerous but uninformed. It’s honestly disappointing to hear such statements, especially as a person who has lived experience of being prostituted. I’m interested to know whether the Facebook views expressed by Chirwa, that promotes the commodification of women’s bodies, are solely hers or that of the EFF? Is the EFF promoting gender-based violence? Is it promoting human trafficking for sexual exploitation? Does the economic freedom in our lifetime include prostituted women as well? Or is our economic freedom going to be in the hands of pimps and sex buyers?

We were confident that the EFF, with its predominantly young leadership and members, would focus on uplifting the economy for every black person and not to get political credentials at our expense. 

The Abolitionist Equality Law is the only solution as it exposes the system of prostitution for what it is. Chirwa clearly speaks from a point of privilege. She asked people on social media to pick a side between decriminalisation and criminalisation, but there is a new strategic third way called the Abolitionist Equality Law where prostituted people would be protected and the people who drive this system of prostitution would be held accountable. Buyers must be arrested. Period! The main focus should be on making sure that we, as prostituted women, regain our dignity and womanhood.

To everyone who agrees with Chirwa’s sentiments, stop treating us as a one size fits all. We are also human beings. Speak to survivors of the system of prostitution. None of us grew up dreaming of being the best and highest paid “sex worker” ever. This was just for survival. It can never be a job! Women are not sex objects and people need to stop glamourising prostitution by calling it work. Those who are calling for the decriminalisation of the system of prostitution and its recognition as work are calling for the commodification of women’s bodies and paid rape.

How will decriminalising this system work? Yes, the police will stop harassing us, but who will stop sex buyers, pimps, and brothel owners from exploiting and killing us? Who will make sure that sex buyers stop raping us?

As a survivor of the system of prostitution, I believe the Abolitionist Equality Law is what we need to eliminate the demand for commercial sexual exploitation by holding sex buyers, pimps, and brothel owners accountable for the harm they cause.  Between me and you Chirwa, who has firsthand experience in the sex trade? Who has the right to speak on this? I suggest you meet with us, the Kwanele Survivor Movement, so we can educate you on this topic.

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“None of us grew up dreaming of becoming sex slaves” by Hildah Nompy Tlou

I am Hildah Nompy Tlou and I’m 36 years old. I was born in Witbank, Mpumalanga but I’m currently based in Mbombela. I am a Founder and Director of Impumelelo Yethu Foundation, a women’s empowerment initiative. Due to poverty, lack of education and unemployment I was introduced to prostitution by friends at the age of 22 years.

My life experience on the street was a living hell. I was abused (emotionally, physically, psychologically, sexually and financially) by sex buyers, brothel owners and pimps on a daily basis. The torture, trauma and abuse I went through was unimaginable. I became a prisoner in my own body because of sex buyers, pimps and brothel owners. I realised that I can’t make a living out of something that doesn’t have a job description and puts my life in danger.

The decriminalisation of the system of prostitution and its recognition as work is not a solution to our fight against unemployment, poverty, gender inequality, systematic oppression and patriarchy. As a survivor of the system of prostitution I’ve experienced and seen prostituted people becoming poorer while sex buyers, pimps, brothels owners, and sex traffickers become richer.

As a poor black woman who was once trapped in prostitution, stripped of my human dignity, labelled and humiliated by our society, I plead with our government to restore our womanhood and to not become a vehicle for promoting sexual exploitation, patriarchy, gender-based violence and gender inequality towards vulnerable women by decriminalising the system of prostitution and recognising it as work. We demand dignified job opportunities and the adoption and successful enactment of the Abolitionist Equality Law is the only solution. The Abolitionist Equality Law criminalises the sex buyers, pimps, brothels owners and sex traffickers and decriminalises those who are bought and sold into prostitution. It offers prostituted persons support to exit because none of us grew up dreaming of becoming sex slaves.

Decriminalisation of the system of prostitution and its recognition as work is mostly advocated by sex traffickers, sex buyers, pimps and brothels owners and other parties who are going to benefit from the commodification and sexual exploitation of poor vulnerable women while prostituted people die and some of us live to tell our stories of psychological, emotional, financial and physical trauma as well as an unhealthy and unhappy lifestyle in the system of prostitution.

I encourage our government to adopt the Abolitionist Equality Law now and make sure that no poor vulnerable woman falls into this inherently violent system.

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Support the abolition of prostitution in Africa

Embrace Dignity launched the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAPA) charter last year during the Kwanele Survivor Movement public forum. The purpose of the charter is to build a Pan African network that advocates for laws and policies based on the following abolitionist core principles which are:

  • Decriminalising prostituted persons and supporting persons who wish to exit prostitution.
  • Promoting and protecting the rights of survivors of prostitution and trafficking without stigmatisation, and targeting the demand by penalising the purchase of sexual acts.
  • Criminalising and ensuring no impunity for pimps, brothel owners and all other parties who profit from exploiting the prostitution of others.
  • Criminalising and penalising all forms of advertising for paid sexual services.
  • Resolutely and systematically opposing the trafficking in human beings.
  • Training professionals including police, social workers and health professionals on the nature of prostitution and how to provide services.
  • Implementing sex education and prostitution prevention policies, especially targeting schools and the youth.
  • Promoting awareness and conducting studies concerning prostitution and the trafficking in human beings, and harmonising data collection systems.

As part of the global abolitionist movement, the ultimate goal of CAPA in Africa is to abolish the system of prostitution through advocating for the adoption, successful enactment and enforcement of the Abolitionist Equality Law in African countries.

Embrace Dignity has been acting as the Secretariat for the coalition by promoting the CAPA charter on our social media platforms and during meetings and events we attend. We currently have a coalition membership of 350 members, of which 129 members were obtained online and 221 members obtained via events and meetings. The growing membership is comprised of civil society organisations, businesses, traditional and cultural organisations, faith-based organisations, women, youth, and men’s and community-based organisations from Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain, France and African countries like South Africa, Malawi and Uganda to name a few.

If you would like to promote CAPA or sign the charter, you can find more information on our website by clicking here.

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Our fight against the criminalisation of prostituted persons

In 2017, the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) Final Report (Project 107) on Adult Prostitution was published. The report is the result of a government-led process to review the fragmented legislative framework that currently regulates adult prostitution within the larger framework of all statutory and common law sexual offences.

It was also commissioned to ensure that South Africa complies with its international obligations under the various conventions and treaties the country has signed and ratified, including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. The other purpose is to bring our laws in line with our Constitution and the basic rights to human dignity, equality and security of the person. 

The Report proposes two draft bills: Partial Decriminalisation (where only those selling sex are decriminalised) and Total Criminalisation (the status quo in South Africa under prohibition). Notably, the Commission totally rejected full decriminalisation, taking into account the current South African context of high levels of unemployment, crippling poverty, the burgeoning numbers of migrant and illegal foreign job seekers, high levels of violence (particularly sexual violence) against women, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, drug or substance abuse, and the targeted exploitation of women engaging in prostitution by third parties, unethical police officers and sex buyers. 

In anticipation of the parliamentary debate on the Report, Embrace Dignity partnered with Norton Rose Fulbright to produce an improved version of the partial decriminalisation bill contained in the SALRC Report. Our version is based on international best practice as represented in the Sex Purchase Act pioneered by Sweden in 1999 as part of an omnibus of laws to combat violence against women. The law targets the demand by criminalising the purchase of sex while those selling sex are decriminalised and supported to exit. In the twenty years since Sweden passed this pioneering law, a growing number of countries have followed suit including Norway (2009), Iceland (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015), France (2016), Ireland (2017), and Israel (2018). 

This law has been called the Swedish Law, Nordic law or Sex Buyer law. It is now referred to as the Abolitionist Equality Law as it was introduced in Sweden as part of a set of initiatives to promote gender equality. It is the only law that has a coherent, understandable strategy to reduce the extent of the oppressive system of prostitution by addressing the demand.

Despite strong opposition calling for the total decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ as they call it, the international trend is leaning overwhelmingly towards the Abolitionist Equality Law, and we are proud to be driving efforts to see the passing of this law in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

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Meet Our Intern: Savannah Estridge

Masters student and American citizen Savannah Estridge joined our team as an intern in June this year. Savannah is originally from Brooklyn, New York and is currently completing her Masters Degree in Global Affairs, concentrating on human rights and international law, at New York University.

Estridge has built up experience advocating for women’s rights through the non-profit sector by working for the United States Peace Corps in Fiji in the South Pacific. Her experience in working for women’s rights in Fiji inspired her to return to university and study human rights, with a particular focus on women’s rights.

“Savannah has been working with our public education team, designing awareness and prevention workshops and collecting data on the youth’s awareness of human trafficking and prostitution. We were pleased that Savannah could join us when we travelled to London to attend a meeting with Equality Now to design a strategy for advocating for the Equality Model Law to end prostitution in South Africa,” says Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

Estridge is a firm believer in the importance of advocating for women’s rights. She hopes to use the experience she gains while working with Embrace Dignity to work for other women’s rights organisations and hopefully one day for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

Estridge will be working with Embrace Dignity’s team until November 2017.

“We are happy that she has joined our team,” adds Madlala-Routledge.

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Working with the youth to prevent sex trafficking

Ikamva Youth, an NGO that “equips learners from disadvantaged communities with the knowledge, skills, networks and resources to access tertiary education and/or employment opportunities once they matriculate”, recently invited Embrace Dignity to conduct two workshops on human trafficking. The workshops involved Survivors like Grizelda Grootboom who shared their personal stories in order to open up a dialogue about trafficking and prostitution for the learners.

Embrace Dignity also used the opportunity to gauge the effect of the presentation on those present and to collect data on the youth’s knowledge of sex trafficking and prostitution through pre- and post-assessments.

“We found that the presentation had an immediate effect on how the participants perceived trafficking and prostitution,” says Savannah Estridge, an intern at Embrace Dignity who was involved in running the training and conducting the assessments.

At the beginning of the first workshop, when learners were asked to indicate where they believed trafficking took place, only 27% of the learners said that it happened everywhere. That figure  increased to 100% – a massive 73% increase – after the presentation indicating that learners grasped the  message shared by Embrace Dignity that young people are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and other forms of trafficking in society.

The second workshop focused on teaching learners prevention skills.

“When analysing learners’ responses on how people fall victim to trafficking, the internet or social media was not mentioned at all. Yet 19% of the respondents talked about falling victim to trafficking when walking down the road or getting into someone’s car, indicating that they  associated trafficking with being kidnapped,” says Estridge.

However, when asked what they had learned during the post-assessment, 11% of the learners mentioned that they now understood how individuals could become susceptible to sex trafficking through their online presence on social media platforms.

“This shows that Embrace Dignity is helping learners to realise that while they can fall victim to sex trafficking by being taken against their will while out in public, there are also a multitude of other ways for traffickers to find vulnerable youth. This may involve luring young persons into situations that the traffickers know will appeal to them  through the information they share on their online profiles – for example the opportunity to participate in a film shoot – but with the eventual purpose to traffic an unsuspecting young person,” says Duduzile Ndlovu, Embrace Dignity Coordinator: Public Education and Advocacy.

Estridge adds: “The goals of the workshops were to raise awareness and teach prevention skills. The data that was collected indicates that Embrace Dignity’s interaction with the youth is very valuable in achieving both of these objectives. There were significant changes in the pre- and post-assessments and participants really valued the opportunity to have a dialogue about an issue that they hear about daily.”

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Poverty-stricken Nontando forced into prostitution

written by Thabo Tshelane, social media and communications coordinator at Embrace Dignity

When *Nontando (*not her real name) heard that Ntombovuyo Mtamo (a prostituted women) had died while sleeping on Voortrekker Road in Bellville she thought about her own life.

“I don’t have an ID and haven’t been home for ten years,” she says, referring to Umtata, Eastern Cape where she is originally from.

“I could die any day and who would make sure that my family knows about my death?”

Nontando was very young when she left home and started selling sexual acts to truck drivers because she needed money.

“It was 1998 when I started selling sexual acts in the streets. I was so poor. At home, when my grandmother passed way, there was nobody to look after us. My father also died and we were three sisters,” she says.

Nontando later left Umtata in the Eastern Cape for Cape Town where she continued selling sexual acts. She had to find a way to cope with her new life though.

“When I started sleeping with men for money I didn’t feel anything. I would drink a lot to numb the feeling and put it all off my mind,” she says.

“I was always drunk when I went to bed so that I could forget everything. Before I was in prostitution I wasn’t drinking at all.”

Nontando is still selling sexual acts today even though she wants to quit.

“I am thinking about leaving prostitution but I’m uneducated. I didn’t finish high school and it’s not easy for me to find a job. This is the only way that I’m able to put bread on the table,” she says.

As a prostituted woman, she also harbours a lot of shame.

“I didn’t tell my family that selling my body for money. It’s not a nice job. You don’t want to tell anyone that you are a “prostitute”.”

“I live in Nyanga with two other women who are also in prostitution. People make nasty comments about us when they see us.”

She faces the same abuse from buyers and has also been in fights with other prostituted persons when drunk.

“If there were issues or arguments then it comes up especially when we are drunk. There are usually misunderstandings on the streets.”

In the last few years, she says, her earnings have dropped considerably.

“Money has also become scarce. Sometimes I make only R200 a weekend and see two or three buyers. What I used to make sleeping with truck drivers in a day I can’t even make now.”

“You end up selling your body for any money that comes your way, instead of going home with nothing. But it’s exhausting. Sometimes when you get into bed you want to sleep forever.”

Many prostituted women are also severely disrespected by buyers.

“Buyers have robbed me and stripped me of everything I have. Some buyers have raped me and others beat me. When you enter a car you don’t know if you will come back alive or not,” says Nontando.

The disrespect she suffers at the hands of buyers are further compounded by how she is treated by the police.

“When you say you have been raped, they [the police] ask how have you been raped if you are sleeping with everybody. It’s better not to go to the police. Even if you go, there is no assistance. The police would laugh at you and mock you when you need help. They would say, ‘Go back to the streets, you are a “prostitute”’.”

Romantic relationships with men, she says, are also near impossible when you sell sexual acts.

“It’s better not to tell your boyfriend you’re in sex trade. I would lose my dignity and he would look at me differently. So I prefer that he doesn’t know.”

“But guys find out so it’s difficult to have a relationship. You rather leave before the guy finds out what you’re doing.”

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