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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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Embrace Dignity marching to Parliament on 26 April to end prostitution through Equality Law

On Wednesday, 26 April, a day before South Africans across the country will celebrate Freedom Day, Embrace Dignity will march to Parliament to deliver a petition to President Jacob Zuma to demand freedom for those still enslaved through prostitution and sex trafficking in this country.

Dubbed the #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom march, the organisers will hand over a petition that calls on the President to release the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) final report on Adult Prostitution and enact the Equality Law to end prostitution and sex trafficking in South Africa.

The purpose of the march is to hand over a signed petition and memorandum calling on President Zuma to enact a law that will prevent the oppression of prostituted persons by:

  • Making it a criminal offence to pay a person for sexual acts.
  • Completely decriminalising the sale of sexual acts and providing comprehensive support and services to help survivors exit.
  • Challenging the belief that it is acceptable to treat women and girls as sexual objects by paying them for sexual acts.

But why exactly are we so adamant that the President does this? The answer is simple.

Over the past 20 years, rates of sexual violence have increased in the country. Prostitution is one of the most brutal forms of sexual abuse, which is founded on and perpetuated by patriarchy (systematic unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed). Prostitution thrives on men’s sexual entitlement to women and other marginalised groups’ bodies. Current South African law makes the purchase and sale of sexual acts illegal. However, while some police officers are known to arrest and brutalise prostituted persons for loitering, buyers are rarely arrested. The overwhelming majority of those sold in South Africa’s sex trade are South African women and women trafficked from other countries. Reports indicate that prostituted people are beaten, raped, abandoned and isolated. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common. One study found that 75% of a group of prostituted individuals in South Africa reported experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

In light of the need to address the harms of the sex trade, the South African Law Reform Commission published a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution and issued a call for public participation in the evaluation of the country’s law on “adult prostitution”. The Commission evaluated four major legal frameworks and submitted the final report and recommendations to the Minister of Justice who will publish the report after its consideration by the Cabinet.

We are calling on the South African government to enact the fourth legal option or the Equality Law model, also known as the Swedish or Nordic Models. The Equality Law model provides a framework that upholds gender equality and human rights. This model works to end demand for paid sexual acts by holding those who purchase sex accountable for the harm they cause. This model also mandates that the government provide prostituted individuals with comprehensive medical services, economic and educational opportunities, and alternative livelihood programmes.

In addition, it will serve as a tool to change the pervasive cultural paradigm that views women and other marginalised bodies as second-class citizens. This option would also provide an effective and comprehensive framework for combatting the spread of HIV/AIDS through targeting and eliminating the demand.

By enacting the Equality Law model, the South African government will affirm that women, girls and marginalised people are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those who purchase sex. We urge the South African government to affirm that women and girls are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those who purchase sex.

South Africa must NOT legalise or decriminalise the sex trade that destroys the lives and human rights of its most vulnerable populations who have absence of choice. We urge South Africa to become the first African country to adopt a law that will solely decriminalise prostituted people and curb the demand for prostitution.

If you believe in our cause, you can join as in person at the march:

WHEN: Wednesday, 26 April 2017
TIME: 10:00 – 14:00
WHERE: Cape Town CBD, starting from Keizersgracht Street parking lot, below CPUT

If you can’t join us in person on the day, you can still show your support for Embrace Dignity – who is supported in its endeavours by the international organisation, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – by signing our petition urgently calling on President Zuma and the South African government to enact the Equality Model legislation that will target the exploiters, including those who purchase sex, while providing protection and support to prostituted individuals.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD BY SIGNING OUR PETITION ONLINE.

Most importantly, remember to follow us on Twitter and to tag us by using our main hashtag #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom and any of the other hashtags: #ProstitutionIsOppression, #EndProstitution, #EqualityLaw and #Nordic Law.  You are also welcome to follow all the live action on Facebook by liking our page.

If you want to know more about our NGO, click here.

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