For many poor, black and unskilled women in South Africa entering the sex industry is not a real choice. Instead it provides immediate employment and a means to take care of their families. However, it’s also a decision that is often shrouded in secrecy.

This was the case for *Thandiswa (not her real name) when she lost her job as a seamstress in Wynberg, Cape Town, a few years ago. She had just given birth to her second child and needed to find money to survive.

Her relationship with the father of her newborn daughter disintegrated soon after and he kicked Thandiswa out of his shack that they were sharing in the township of Gugulethu.

“I was earning R4 500 a month and then I had nothing,” says Thandiswa.

With that money, she could take care of herself and also send money home to her mother who was taking care of her firstborn daughter in Port Elizabeth.

“I couldn’t stay with my boyfriend anymore but our daughter stayed with him. A woman that I knew gave me a place to stay. She told me I could stay for free but I just needed to buy food and electricity,” says Thandiswa.

She told one of her friends that she was looking for a job. One night, the same friend took her to a pub in Voortrekker Road in Bellville.

“She didn’t tell me we were going to do business (selling sex). One guy called me over (at the pub) and took me to his place to have sex,” says Thandiswa.

“Then he gave me money and took me back to the pub. I asked my friend what this was about. She told me this was the business. So I started to sell my body,” says Thandiswa as she explains how she first started selling sex.

Thandiswa says prostitution put her on her feet again.

“Suddenly my life was good because I had a lot of money. Some nights I made R2 500 and I had ten clients a night. If I wanted to go to Port Elizabeth I could do it immediately,” she says.

“Everyone knew that I had money but they didn’t know I was a “prostitute”. They didn’t ask where I got the money. If people know I’m a “prostitute” they would judge me and I would lose my dignity.”

For years, Thandiswa held three bank accounts, each with money in it from selling her body.

“I was supporting my two children. I needed to work to support them,” she says.

By 2015 she had saved enough money to buy her own shack for R14 000 in Gugulethu. While it might sound like Thandiswa was living the high life, prostitution was far from it.

“When you work as a “prostitute” you are walking on the streets the whole night. You are not sleeping and you get tired. You are sleeping with many men. You can get diseases. Guys who come to you force you to have sex without a condom,” says Thandiswa.

“Some men have sex with you and don’t give you money. Some men leave you in the middle of nowhere in the night. Some men beat you or take all your clothes off.”

This is exactly what happened to Thandiswa one night when a client took her clothes and left her naked in the street. Luckily for her, a passerby was willing to help by offering her something to cover herself up with.

“Life on the street is not good. Some women have died on the streets because clients beat them. I don’t know why men treat “prostitutes” so badly.”

Thandiswa also faced police arrests during that time.

“The police do not arrest the men. They should arrest the men too, because if men didn’t [buy sex] then prostitution would stop. Nobody would sell their body.”

The turning point for Thandiswa came when she was arrested for prostitution and spent two months in Pollsmoor prison.

“Being in prison wasn’t nice at all. After that, I decided to do some training in housekeeping and I found a job at a hotel. I didn’t want to go to jail again,” says Thandiswa.

It has not been an easy road though.

“My contract at the hotel ended and I have been looking for a job since 2016. I also did some more training with NGOs to get more skills but I haven’t found a job yet.”

“I’m submitting my CV to a lot of places but can’t find a job. I want to earn money so I can support my children again.”

Thandiswa says her life has changed a lot since she stopped working as a “prostitute” and her views on it have changed too since she started going to church again.

“My friend who took me to the pub also stopped working as a “prostitute”. We now go to church together,” says Thandiswa.

“I’m not judging them (prostituted women). I did it because I was desperate for money. But I think it’s better to leave prostitution. I’m very happy now that I’m not a “prostitute”.”

She adds: “I think most women who are “prostitutes” don’t really want to do it. Some have done it for a long time and don’t want to change. But you can’t work on the streets for so many years.”

Photo: Grizelda Grootboom (pictured) became the public face of prostituted women in 2016 with the release of her book EXIT!, which shares her harrowing tale of being trafficked for sex in Johannesburg. Grizelda was able to share that story thanks to the support she received from Embrace Dignity to help her put that story into words. Through our #ListenToSurvivors story series we hope to do the same for many other women whose stories have not yet been told.

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We recently had two groups of students visit Embrace Dignity to learn about the organisation’s mission and how we have helped women in our community exit prostitution. The first group consisted of students from a range of countries across the world and who are enrolled for the Global Affairs Masters Program at New York University in the United States. The students focus on different fields of study in their degree such as development, international law and human rights, transnational security, and energy policy.

“The students were on a study abroad course to learn more about some of the struggles and successes of societal change since the overthrow of apartheid and the introduction of a non-racial, non-sexist democratic government in South Africa,” says Ms Savannah Estridge, an intern at Embrace Dignity who is completing a Masters in Human Rights and International Law with a focus on gender at New York University in the United States.

During the visit the students were told the life stories of the Sisters who had exited prostitution or were in the process of exiting through Embrace Dignity’s Exit Programme. They were also invited to sit through a Sisterhood meeting and hear firsthand accounts of survivors of prostitution and trafficking.

“The students found the visit to be very moving and valuable and were very happy that we were willing to take time out of our schedules to educate them about the work we are doing to end prostitution through law reform, public education and by supporting prostituted persons to exit prostitution. The students were accompanied by their professor, Barbara Borst, who worked as a journalist in South Africa for many years during the late eighties and early nineties,” added Estridge.

Embrace Dignity was also able to host a group of high school learners from Edmund Rice Education Australia who had come to South Africa on a study abroad course to learn about different human rights issues that affect the country.

“We spent quite a bit of time asking the learners about some of the observations they had made when it came to human rights issues in South Africa during their visit. Many of the learners highlighted issues of mass inequality between the rich and the poor, complicated racial relations, as well as gender-based violence as contentious points.”

According to Estridge the discussion was followed up with a breakdown of the work being done by Embrace Dignity and an explanation of how all of the issues that the learners had observed in the communities they had visited also affected the work being done by Embrace Dignity.

“We also discussed how patriarchy remains entrenched in all our communities globally and the role of learners in bringing about social change on their own and by joining hands with reputable organisations like Embrace Dignity.”

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Get Our Advocacy T-shirt

We have taken our advocacy and public awareness campaign to the public with the creation of a number of t-shirts sporting some powerful advocacy messages for men, women and children in our communities. While t-shirts are given free of charge to the Survivors who helped us develop the messaging on the materials we are also selling it to the general public as part of the Dignity Marketplace, a platform where we sell products made by survivors as part of the Exit Programme. The funds are also used to support Sistahood, a safe space that survivors have established for their weekly meetings to support one another and to learn new skills. If you want to support our awareness campaign and contribute to the Survivor Exit Programme, you can order a t-shirt for R180 by mailing

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Meet Our Intern: McKenzie Swain

McKenzie Swain joined the Embrace Dignity team in May of this year and will spend the next two months with us to improve her knowledge on and experience of what it takes to successfully manage a non-governmental organisation advocating for the rights of women that are prostituted and trafficked for sex. We sat down with Swain to find out more about her interest in the non-profit sector.

Q: What are you currently doing back home?

A: I attend George Washington University in Washington D.C. where I am a sophomore pursuing a degree in International Affairs with a concentration in International Development Studies. I am hoping to minor in either Women’s Studies or Human Services and Social Justice in future.

Q: Why did you decide to come to Embrace Dignity for an internship?

A: My goal in future is to pursue a career in the non-profit sector focusing on development. I am specifically interested in helping people further their education and gender equality across the world. I chose to do an internship at Embrace Dignity because I share the same view as the organisation – that prostitution is a form of gender based violence. I also believe strongly in the Nordic Model or Equality Law.

Q: What else, other than Embrace Dignity’s vision and mission, attracted you to the organisation?

A: It was not only Embrace Dignity’s ideology that brought me to the NGO, but the fact that the organisation is actually bringing about real change and creating dialogue. Embrace Dignity does not only advocate for law reform, it creates support systems to help those who have already exited prostitution. Their holistic approach to the problem of prostitution was what drew me to the organisation.

Q: What else do you hope to gain from your time at Embrace Dignity?

A: During my time in Cape Town I hope to gain real experience on how to manage a non-profit and also witness what it takes to run a successful NGO. My goal is to bring that knowledge back to the United States so that I can continue advocating for gender equality there.

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Advocating At The Community Level

Mobilising prostituted persons to advocate for their rights across South Africa

Mickey Meji, responsible for Civic Advocacy, the Survivor Empowerment and Support Programme (SESP) and Kwanele, recently spent two weeks in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng along with Embrace Dignity Communication and Social Media intern, Thabo Tshelane, Executive Director, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, and Promise Mthembu, a consultant on gender and women’s rights, to engage in dialogue with gender activists and to train survivors and prostituted persons on advocating for their rights.

Embrace Dignity and Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre co-hosted the two-day community dialogue in East London. Participants came from urban and rural areas across the Eastern Cape and included women working against gender based violence, the youth and civil servants from the South African Police Service, Social Development and Public Prosecutions. “This was the first of a series of outreach activities Embrace Dignity plans to conduct in different parts of the country,” said Meji.

“The broad objectives of the meeting was to raise awareness about the socio-economic issues that drive people to prostitution and to help them think about ways to address these issues effectively, change attitudes towards prostituted women and identify the role their organisations can play in ongoing law reform discussions and the overall programme to change our society,” added Meji.

Participants were introduced to current legal frameworks governing prostitution around the world and to the law reform process in South Africa. They then evaluated the legal frameworks for appropriateness for South Africa, particularly focusing on the Equality Model Law which has gained traction in a number of countries recently.

“Participants were therefore encouraged to engage with the Equality Model Law and to discuss their own concerns about it,” said Meji.

Participants and the organisations represented at the meeting, who also form part of the Ikhwelo Women’s Advocacy Network, agreed to join and support Embrace Dignity’s work as a collective going forward.

“This is well-developed network with direct access to the legislature, members of parliament, relevant parliamentary portfolio committees, and policy makers at provincial and national level. They also have years of experience of working at these levels and a huge support base as most women’s organisations in this province belong to the network.”

At present, the network focuses on advocacy work related to the Traditional Courts Bill and Child Marriage-Ukuthwala, however, following the meeting, it was agreed that the network would also now start focusing on the issue of prostitution and advocate for the Equality Model Law.

“The network will now incorporate advocacy activities focused on prostitution and sex trafficking in their strategy and work in close collaboration with Masimanyane and Embrace Dignity to do so,” added Meji.

The team also visited Johannesburg to meet with Kwanele provincial organisers to develop and mobilise a Survivor Movement in a four-day workshop held with Survivors of prostitution. The purpose of the workshop was to provide leadership training for the organisers as a step towards building a Survivor Movement.

“We also developed activities that we could rollout under a Kwanele campaign at local and provincial level,” said Meji.

Sixteen female participants, including young and old survivors from the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape, signed up for the workshop.

“The workshop was a major first milestone in organising and building a movement of survivors who can participate meaningfully in advocacy for law reform. All the women who were at the workshop were Survivors who were working or had worked in the streets. It also became clear that there is a need to bring on board women who are working in brothels and those who are trafficked. It might be hard to achieve this but not impossible and will assist us in our work, as it will bring different nuances and voices to the table,” said Meji.

The participants were also taken through a practical demonstration of how to use different social media platforms for advocacy work.

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Advocating At A Global Level

Drawing on Sweden’s pioneering work in prostitution law reform

Embrace Dignity invited Per-Anders Sunesson, the Swedish Ambassador at Large For Combating Trafficking in Persons, to complement our presentation at a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Justice, the Hon John Jeffery.

“We requested the meeting with the Honourable Mr Jeffery to enquire about the progress in Cabinet on the release of the SALRC’s Report – Project 107 on Adult Prostitution, and to present the advantages of the pioneering Swedish law of partial criminalisation, which criminalises the purchase of sex while ensuring those bought and sold are not criminalised and are supported to exit. Similar laws have now been enacted in seven countries, including France last year and the Republic of Ireland this year. South Africa has the opportunity to be the first country in Africa to enact such a law,” said Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

Sunesson has a legal background and in recent years has held various positions at the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, including Head of Social Services, Disability Issues and Childen’s Rights. He has also been the Government Offices Coordinator for issues related to vulnerable EU citizens and human trafficking. The recognition of the close link between human trafficking and prostitution is evident by his appointment as Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons and his focus on effective laws to end prostitution. It is estimated that more than two million people are trafficked into slavery each year. Almost four fifths of the victims – mostly women and underage girls – are sold into the sex industry.

An  evaluation conducted by the Swedish government on of the impact of the Nordic law concluded that 80% of Swedes supported the law and that the police welcomed its implementation. The report revealed that overall levels of violence against women had decreased. Since before the law’s inception, the Swedish government has argued that prostitution is strongly related to violence against women. Since 1999, when the Sex Purchase Act first came into force, there has been no known instance of a person in prostitution murdered in Sweden as a direct result of being in prostitution. The only fatality of a woman in prostitution since 1999 (Eva Marree Smith Kullander, sometimes referred to as Petite Jasmine) was a domestic violence homicide. Kullander  was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2013 during a custody visit.

“We took advantage of Sunesson’s presence here in South Africa and arranged for him to meet with key role players in our advocacy for the Equality Model Law. He met with Kwanele to engage with survivors of prostitution and went on a field trip to witness first hand the socio-economic conditions in which they live,” added Madlala-Routledge.

Sunesson also participated in a dialogue with representatives of the criminal justice system, and another to which Embrace Dignity invited members of parliament. In both workshops survivors spoke on the harms of prostitution and their hopes for a life free from exploitation.

“At the same time, we shared the legal options and the advantages of this Swedish law or Equality Law as we like to call it, as it addresses patriarchy and gender inequality. We believe that by focusing on the demand, the law will also help ‘regulate prevent, deter and reduce prostitution’, criteria which were included in the brief of the SALRC investigation.”

The dialogue with the criminal justice community was attended by Judge John Hlophe, the President of the Cape High CourtMajor General (Advocate) Nombuso Portia Khoza, the Western Cape Head of the Hawks (the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation or DPCI); other members of the SAPS; and Cape Town Law Enforcement. Reflecting on the significance of the engagement, Major General Khoza expressed appreciation and keenness to work with civil society organisations like Embrace Dignity to end organised crime in general and sex trafficking in particular.

“Sweden has strong historic ties with South Africa, which was formed post-apartheid, and we look forward to building on this relationship and the visit by Sunesson in advancing our advocacy for the Equality Model Law.”

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SALRC Report On Adult Prostitution Released

“Main recommendation for law reform on adult prostitution will be ineffective”

 On 26 May, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Adv Michael Masutha, and the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery, released the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) report on adult prostitution during a press briefing held in Pretoria. While it is  encouraging that the SALRC also recommended the Equality Model legislative approach, which has shown the most success in recent years and  is supported by sex trade survivors and women’s rights groups around the world, it is their recommendation of full criminalisation that is most concerning.

These were some of the concerns raised by Embrace Dignity – a South African, feminist and human rights advocacy NGO campaigning for the partial decriminalisation of adult prostitution –  following the release of the report.

“We welcome the release of the long-awaited SALRC Report on Project 107 – Adult Prostitution and acknowledge that the SALRC has undertaken and analysed considerable research on the legislative options for dealing with adult prostitution. We also believe that the release of the report, which clearly highlights the harms of prostitution and the socio-economic factors that drive prostitution, will enable a more informed public debate on this contentious issue. However, we are deeply concerned by initial feedback that indicates that the report recommends total criminalisation with diversion and are unconvinced that this recommendation will help safeguard women trapped in prostitution and sex trafficking in the long term,” said Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

In 2009, following the release of its Discussion Paper: Project 107 – Adult Prostitution for public discussion, the SALRC undertook the task of reviewing the fragmented legislative framework that currently regulates adult prostitution in the country and the need for law reform. Under current South African legislation, voluntary selling and buying of sex as well as all prostitution related acts are criminal offences and is governed by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007. The aim of the investigation was also to identify alternative policy and legislative responses that might regulate, prevent, deter or reduce prostitution.

By November 2015, when the SALRC’s report was submitted to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, four major legal models had been identified through this extensive six-year public consultation process:

  • total criminalisation of adult prostitution (the status quo in South Africa currently);
  • total decriminalisation of adult prostitution, including pimping and the purchase of sex;
  • legalisation or regulation of prostitution, including pimping and the purchase of sex; and
  • partial decriminalisation (referred to as the Equality Model Law by Embrace Dignity).

According to Madlala-Routledge studies have shown that one of the key drivers of prostitution and sex trafficking is demand.

“While we welcome the continued criminalisation of those buying and profiteering from exploitation through pimping, procuring, promoting and the running of brothels, the continued criminalisation of those bought and sold, the majority of whom are women and girls, re-victimises them and hinders their exit as they also then carry the stigma of being criminals. The recommendation will also not address structural injustice, such as persisting gender inequality, unemployment and poverty, which Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has characterised as having the ‘long face of an African woman’. These factors drive prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation.”

For the last six years, Embrace Dignity has advocated for and garnered support for partial decriminalisation or what is known across the world as the Equality Model or Nordic Model. This legislative approach, which the organisation has dubbed the Equality Model Law, has shown the most success in recent years and is supported by “sex trade” survivors and women’s rights groups around the world, says Madlala-Routledge. Spearheaded by Sweden in 1999 and followed by Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France and the Republic of Ireland, the model allows for the decriminalisation of those prostituted and trafficked for sex and provides exiting services and support for those same persons, while criminalising pimping, the operation and ownership of brothels and the buying of  sex. It is supported by both the European Union and the Council of Europe and has been gaining significant traction around the globe.

Embrace Dignity has also worked closely with those being prostituted and trafficked for sex in South Africa to better understand and respond to the realities that they face on the ground.

“Our recommendation is not made lightly and is driven by what we have witnessed as we engage with prostituted and trafficked persons and assist survivors to exit. This is why we vocally support a partial decriminalisation model as part of a comprehensive set of interventions to address violence against women, patriarchy and gender inequality. However, we are not suggesting a cookie cutter approach, but rather an amended form of this law which also takes into consideration the socio-economic and constitutional context in this country.”

To this end, Embrace Dignity has built extensive networks with national and international partners such as the Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre in the Eastern Cape, Equality Now, CATW International (The Coalition Against the Trafficking in Women) and Donor Direct Action, and is also a member of CAP International (The Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution).

Apart from its advocacy work, Embrace Dignity educates the public about the harms of prostitution, the stigma and further victimisation that women who are prostituted or trafficked for sex face within society. The NGO also supports those who wish to exit by providing those women with safe spaces to share their stories, counselling, personal development plans, work skills and life skills training. Additionally it supports survivor initiatives such as Kwanele, a movement of women consisting of survivors of prostitution who are also advocating for the Equality Law, and SESP, a survivor led initiative to offer opportunities to exit prostitution. It has also supported individual survivors like Grizelda Grootboom, who has written a book called EXIT on her experiences of being trafficked and being driven to a life of prostitution and drugs and who continues to speak out on public platforms about the harms of prostitution.

“At a moment in our country’s history, when South African society and government are starting to show signs of uniting against men’s violence against women and girls, we need more activists from our communities campaigning for the rights of women and girls being prostituted and trafficked for sex. Prostitution perpetuates men’s violence against women and girls by objectifying women and undermining gender equality. It also entrenches patriarchy which in turn perpetuates and ingrains prostitution – a vicious cycle. It is our hope and that of the ‘sex trade’ survivors we work with that the SALRC report becomes a central discussion point in a society where violence against women and girls risks becoming normalised.”


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What I Learned At Embrace Dignity

What I Learned While Volunteering At Embrace Dignity

In February this year, volunteer Morven Magari, joined the Embrace Dignity team to assist with the Survivor Initiatives Programme. Magari studied towards a degree in Women’s Studies and Independent Studies at Lancaster University in London and was also involved in organising the 2017 Feminism in London conference, which advocates for equality for women, with particular emphasis on survivors of prostitution. During her time at Embrace Dignity, she not only brought a wealth of knowledge to the NGO, but expanded on her own understanding of prostitution in South Africa.

“I returned from my short internship with Embrace Dignity in February feeling inspired, exhilarated, and recharged,” says Magari from her home in Brighton, England as she reflects on her time in South Africa.

“My ‘winter’ holiday in Cape Town had become a crash course in the world of the NGO and the volunteer, taking me to Delhi, India and the French and Swedish embassies, the Cape Town Art Fair, and the very glamorous Cape Town Men’s Fashion Week.  In contrast, there was also the shock of seeing extreme poverty existing alongside extreme wealth and the apparent disinterest and apathy shown by those with plenty to those in need,” adds Magari, who is a passionate about ensuring that women are treated as equals in the eyes of the law.

“Apartheid would seem to be alive and well and I found this contrast occupied my mind often as an exercise in the study and obscenity of human existence.”

Her time at Embrace Dignity, she says, has expanded her knowledge to the extent that she is able to have more meaningful discussions with South Africans that she meets in the United Kingdom. Such an opportunity recently presented itself during a Q and A session with a group of Cape Town artists, who were visiting London to exhibit their work at a local art gallery there.

“As we discussed the images in the Fabrica exhibition, I was reminded of the evening we attended the Cape Town Men’s Fashion Week. This led us to talk about the glamour, beauty and excitement of the event and of the many contradictions present in life, art and culture in Cape Town and South Africa today. We discussed the massive inequalities present and the urgent need for faster progress in improving the living standards of those who are excluded and marginalised in South Africa and Cape Town in particular.”

However, Magari’s experience at Embrace Dignity has allowed her to do so much more than engage in meaningful discussions.

“The experience and knowledge I gained at Embrace Dignity was also put to good use during a televised debate in which I participated on BBC a few weeks ago. One of the guest speakers was from The English Collection of Prostitutes, roughly the equivalent of SWEAT in South Africa. During our discussion, she started speaking of the failure of the Swedish Sex Buyers or Nordic Law, which we know is a lie. Thanks to Embrace Dignity, I was able to attend the CAP International congress in Delhi and had met the Swedish Ambassador during that visit, and this allowed me to dispel any notion during the BBC interview that the Swedish law was a failure. I was also able to highlight the suffering and oppression experienced by women in the sex industry, as well as the urgent need for worldwide abolition.

“I hope to be back in Cape Town in December and look forward to seeing how Embrace Dignity’s work is coming along in their new offices in Gardens, Cape Town. In the meantime, I am with the Embrace Dignity team in spirit and in my memories of our time together.”

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Meet Our Intern: Thabo Tshelane

Thabo Tshelane, a Fallist, social justice activist and Chemical Engineering graduate from the University of Cape Town, recently joined our team as a Communications and Social Media intern to help us improve our presence on social media and engage better with our followers and supporters online. Click here to find out why Tshelane, who originally hails from Mafikeng, chose to volunteer his time and skills at our NGO.

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In Discussion With Parliament About The Equality Law

Laws Governing Prostitution Come Under Discussion

“South Africa is ‘a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to both forced labour and sex trafficking’, with South Africans constituting the largest number of victims within the country.”

This sobering fact along with many other issues relating to prostitution in South Africa, such as organised crime, drug trafficking, sex tourism and commercial sexual exploitation, came under scrutiny at a dialogue forum with legislators from the South African parliament from 23 – 25 February. The dialogue forum, which was hosted by Embrace Dignity and Equality Now, was held to broaden the legislators understanding of issues surrounding prostitution and how to effectively use the law to end it. Equality Now is an international organisation that advocates for the human rights of women and girls around the world.

The legislators, along with parliamentary researchers and staff, experts and survivors, met at the Ocean Breeze Hotel in Strand, Cape Town to dissect the current and possible future laws on prostitution in South Africa, in particular what is referred to as the Equality Model Law (or Nordic Model Law), and its implications for women and girls.

Through the forum, Embrace Dignity and Equality Now increased awareness among the legislators on the role of the law in protecting the rights of women and girls caught up in prostitution, and the complex legal, social, human rights and gender equality issues raised by the harms of and oppression caused by prostitution.

“This dialogue forum allowed an open sharing of key trends, issues and factors relating to prostitution in South Africa and its underlying causes, including issues of what drives the demand and how to prevent entry and support exit from prostitution. It also explored the international, regional and national legal frameworks; identified ongoing law reform initiatives and discussed legislative options regarding prostitution in South Africa. At the same time, it provided an opportunity for legislators to discuss effective strategies and programmes for combating prostitution using the law,” said Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

“Looking at examples from around the world, such as Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand, which either legalised or decriminalised prostitution, it is clear that legalisation has not achieved its intended purpose – that is to remove the harms of prostitution. On the other hand, the example of the Sex Purchase Law, also known as the Nordic Model Law, passed by Sweden in 1999 is being copied by a growing number of countries, including Norway, Iceland, Canada, France and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and is being considered by Wales and England. Our aim is to increase the understanding by legislators of effective options on how to deal with sex trafficking and prostitution at a legislative and policy level,” said Ms Tsitsi Matekaire, Programme Manager: Sex Trafficking at Equality Now.

Added Madlala-Routledge: “The Equality Model Law that Embrace Dignity is advocating for criminalises the purchaser of sex and decriminalises the seller but at the same time recognises and is a response to the South African context of poverty, unemployment, poor education, violence against women and a high drop-out rate amongst learners. This law will also compel government to provide access to services, job skills and funded programmes that will increase the options of prostituted people and allow them to enter the job market or create their own livelihoods.”

Participants at the forum included the Chairperson of the Multiparty Parliamentary Women’s Caucus, the Honourable Masefele Story Morutoa; the Acting Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces’ (NCOP) Petitions Committee, Honourable Moses Mhlanga;  the Whip of the Women’s Committee, Ms Phumzile Bhengu; the Deputy Head of Mission of the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria, Ms Karin Hernmarck-Ahliny; the Principal State Law Adviser of the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC), Advocate Dellene Clarke; a Programme Specialist from UN Women, Ms Ayanda Mvimbi; and Dr Lesley Ann Forster, Director of Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre based in the Eastern Cape, as well as survivors who have a personal knowledge of the harms of prostitution and are advocating for its abolition.

At present, prostitution and sex trafficking in South Africa are governed by three laws – the Sexual Offences Act of 1957, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007, and the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act (PACOTIP).

“The fact that adult prostitution is regulated under three different pieces of legislation complicates law enforcement and results in harm and injustice for prostituted people. The survivors at the meeting expressed very forcefully that this injustice must end and that they should not be criminalised for their own oppression. The delay in issuing the South African Law Reform Commission’s recommendations on Adult Prostitution is harming women and is a clear indication of a lack of political will to address patriarchy, gender-based violence and the vulnerability of marginalised people in our country. If this injustice was happening to any other sector of our society, a state of emergency would have already been declared,” said Madlala-Routledge.

“While PACOTIP already allows us to not only criminalise all forms of sex trafficking, but also places the obligation on government to drive programmes to prevent and combat trafficking, provide better reporting on trafficking statistics and guidelines on victim assistance measures, victims that are prostituted are still criminalised through the current laws of South Africa, making it even harder for them to leave prostitution and re-enter the job market in future.”

Discussions around how to legislate Adult Prostitution in South Africa has been an ongoing one.

In May 2009, a discussion paper on Sexual Offences: Adult Prostitution was published, with the SALRC calling on the public and other stakeholders for comment. Eight workshops were held in urban and rural areas as well as meetings with adult prostituted persons. The aim of these interactions along with the more than 2 600 submissions received from legal experts, NGOs, prostituted persons, brothel owners, health care officials, religious leaders and the general public, was to assist the SALRC to determine the “appropriate legal solution”. Four possible solutions – non-criminalisation of prostitution; regulation of prostitution, partial criminalisation (buyers are prosecuted but not sellers), and total criminalisation of both the buyer and seller – were identified in the discussion paper after which a Report was submitted to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development with recommendations to proceed.

“During the dialogue with legislators we also called on the government to immediately release the final report of the South African Law Reform Commission and in the interim to declare a moratorium on the criminalisation of prostituted people and provide access to services and support to exit prostitution,” said Madlala-Routledge.

Photo: The Chairperson of the Multiparty Parliamentary Women’s Caucus, the Honourable Masefele Story Morutoa (left), and the Executive Director of Embrace Dignity, Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, shares a light moment in between the forum discussions. (Nico Kinnear)

Background To The Equality Law Model

Discussions around how to legislate Adult Prostitution in South Africa has been an ongoing one which started in 1998 with the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) expansion of an issue paper (a short essay on a specific topic) on Sexual Offences By and Against Children to include “all sexual crimes by and against adults”. This paper led to a review of “all common law and statutory sexual offence crimes” and an investigation, which was further expanded by the then Deputy Minister of Justice and the Justice Parliamentary Portfolio Committee. Named the SALRC Project 107: Sexual Offences and with a sub-project focused on Adult Prostitution, the SALRC decided to divide its investigation into “four separate  offence papers”, “dealing with the substantive law, the procedural law (both to the exclusion of adult prostitution), adult prostitution and pornography”.  This process would take the form of an issue paper followed by a discussion paper which would culminate in a report and, where necessary draft legislation.

Between 1999 and 2001, discussion papers on the Substantive Law (rules that determine the rights and obligations of individuals and collective bodies) and the Procedural Law (practices and procedures that courts and lawyers for example must follow to properly try a case) was published, with the latter culminating in a Report. By 2004, a bill was tabled and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 known as the Sexual Offences Amendment Act was passed.

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