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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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Creating A Global Footprint

Engaging With India And The United States To Form Global Alliances Abroad

Over the last three months Embrace Dignity engaged with various international organisations fighting against prostitution and sex trafficking across the globe by attending two conferences hosted in India and the United States.

CAP (Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution) International’s The Last Girl First: Second World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls was held in New Delhi, India, from 29 to 31 January while the United Nations’ (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61 2017) was held in New York in the United States from 13 to 24 March.

More than 400 civil society representatives, leaders and decision makers from 30 countries and five continents attended, including survivors of prostitution and representatives of the most marginalised women and girls – this includes indigenous, low caste, migrant and minority women as well as women of colour. In addition, a number of youth, and representatives from various student movements, trade unions, the new technologies sector, and members of parliaments from various countries were present.

“The purpose of the congress was to discuss various ways to end sexual exploitation and trafficking of marginalised women and girls across the world. Throughout history these women and girls have been the most systemically disadvantaged groups and have formed the largest group of persons to be sexually exploited and prostituted,” said Madlala-Routledge, who attended the congress along with Embrace Dignity staff members, Pumla Qambela, Grizelda Grootboom, and volunteer Morven Magari from the United Kingdom.

“This Congress helped to further strengthen the transnational movement of organisations advocating to put the last girl – a reference to those who are marginalised and often thought of last – first in their respective countries.” 

A month later, Madlala-Routledge, Grootboom, and another Embrace Dignity staff member, Mickey Meji, attended the sixty-first session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which took place at the UN Headquarters in New York. Representatives of the UN Member States, entities, and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)-accredited non-governmental organisations  from all regions of the world attended the session. The theme of this year’s session was Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work.

“This theme was of particular interest to us as we believe that to address women’s economic empowerment is fundamental to their economic freedom and to preventing their commercial sexual exploitation.”

There has been an ongoing discussion, within the UN and elsewhere, about whether or not prostitution should be viewed as a profession. For this reason, the term sex worker is often used in these discussions. During a panel discussion which was held by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and titled Wanted: Economic Empowerment and Equality, Not the Sex Trade – Women from the Global South and Indigenous Communities Speak Out, Embrace Dignity staff members, Mickey Meji and Grizelda Grootboom, who also served as panellists, spoke out strongly against this notion of prostitution.

“The inherent harms of prostitution and its perpetuation of gender-based violence make it impossible to recognise it as a form of work and all the speakers were in agreement about this.”

Speaking at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Trafficking in Persons in Conflict Situations: forced labour, slavery and other similar practices, Åsa Regnér, the Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality in Sweden stressed the importance of not creating legal markets for human traffickers. She said: “Swedish policy on this issue is clear. Prostitution can never be regarded as a job; prostitution is always exploitation. Sweden urges more countries to consider legislation that targets the person who buys sex and offers support to the person being exploited – thereby shifting the criminal focus and guilt from the person being exploited to the exploiter. Knowledge about one’s own rights, including about sexual and reproductive health and rights, is crucial.”

While the first and much anticipated official abolitionist side event, When victims matter: ending demand for prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes, was cancelled at the last minute, Madlala-Routledge , together with Mickey Meji and Grizelda Grootboom attended a side event at the Permanent Mission of France to the  UN which also included Åsa Regnér, the Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality; Laurence Rossignol, the French Minister for Families, Children and Women’s Rights, and Per-Anders Sunesson, Sweden’s Ambassador at Large for Combatting Trafficking in Persons in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs During this event, CAP members, which include Embrace Dignity, provided short introductions on the situations in their respective countries and on their work.

“We concluded our visit to New York with a strategic meeting at the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN where we met with Ms Margot Wallström, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs. This meeting was arranged by CAP International and Donor Direct Action and provided Embrace Dignity with a great opportunity to share our vision, mission, and our activities in South Africa to have the Equality Law enacted.”

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We March To Parliament To End Prostitution

Embrace Dignity takes call to Parliament to end prostitution in South Africa

 

On Wednesday, 26 April, a day before South Africans across the country celebrated Freedom Day, Embrace Dignity marched 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.

During Embrace Dignity’s #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom march, the organisers handed 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 Africaa.

The Equality Law model (or partial decriminalisation) will decriminalise prostituted individuals and support them in exiting the sex trade, while penalising those who purchase sex and those who profit from the exploitation.

“We intentionally marched on the eve of Freedom Day to demand that the freedom of women, girls and other marginalised persons in prostitution is realised, protected and promoted,” said Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

The Equality Law is the only legal framework that does all of the following:

  • promote and protect gender equality and human rights;
  • promote exit and offers support;
  • mandate the government to provide prostituted individuals with comprehensive medical services, economic and educational opportunities, and alternative livelihood programmes;
  • address the demand by holding those who purchase sex accountable for the harm they cause and educating them that women’s bodies are not for sale;
  • challenge patriarchy and inequality as the underlying factors that drive prostitution; and
  • educate society about the structural causes of prostitution.

“We recognise that the issue of how to deal with prostitution is contested. That is why we particularly want the government to release the final report of the South African Law Reform Commission on Adult Prostitution so that the public can engage with the issue and find a solution for the better common good,” added Madlala-Routledge.

In 2009, in response to  the need to address the harms of the sex trade, the SALRC published a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution and handed over their final report emanating from this paper and engagement with general society (refer to detailed background below) to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services in November 2015.

The four major legal models they identified are:

  • 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 Law model by Embrace Dignity).

An evaluation of these frameworks along with recommendations was also included in the report, which will be published by the Minister after it has been considered by the Cabinet.

“The march to Parliament was therefore also to urge the government to release the report on prostitution in order to open up public debate on a lingering and growing form of oppression in the world and this country and enact the Equality Law,” said Madlala-Routledge.

According to the organisation, while the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic is often used to justify the call for total decriminalisation of the sex trade in South Africa, survivors they have assisted to exit such as Grizelda Grootboom and other prostituted individuals report that the ability to negotiate condom use is a myth, given the power and control imposed on them by buyers and pimps.

“By enacting the Equality Law, the South African government will affirm that women, girls and marginalised persons are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those purchasing sex. We encourage the South African government to affirm that the lives of women, girls and marginalised persons matter and to become the first African country to adopt a law that will solely decriminalise prostituted persons and curb the demand for prostitution.”

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 Correctional Services and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. 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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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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Decriminalizing Prostitution In South Africa: A Recipe to Extinguish the Legacy of Sara Baartman

Decriminalizing Prostitution In South Africa: A Recipe to Extinguish the Legacy of Sara Baartman

The spirit of Saartjie “Sara” Baartman runs deep in South Africa. In the early 19th century, a Dutch farmer near Cape Town enslaved Sara and, a few years later, a British doctor took her to Europe. A KhoiKhoi woman with protuberant buttocks and genitalia the British deemed proof of an over-sexualized being, Sara was branded a freak of nature and exhibited in London’s Piccadilly Circus. After the novelty wore off, Sara’s owners prostituted her and showcased her in rich Parisian homes, inviting guests to touch her naked body as entertainment. Sara died of alcohol-induced and other illnesses at age 26.

Today, a handful of South African centers serving women survivors of abuse are named after Sara Baartman. They struggle to meet immeasurable needs in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence. South Africa has strong domestic violence and sexual offences laws, yet the rate of gender-based violence has exponentially increased in the past twenty years. Human rights organizations call South Africa the “rape capital“ of the world. This tragic classification does not include women and girls purchased in the sex trade.

Prostitution, one of the most brutal forms of male-perpetrated sexual abuse, is illegal in South Africa. While corrupt police are known to arrest and brutalize the women for loitering, buyers of sexual acts are rarely arrested.

The South African Law Commission is about to publish recommendations for reforming the law on prostitution. The Commission will advise the government on which of the three major legal frameworks to adopt: maintain the total criminalization of what it calls “adult prostitution”; decriminalize or legalize the sex trade, including pimping and sex-purchasing; or choose the “Equality Model,” which only decriminalizes prostituted individuals. France recently enacted the Equality Model, holding sex buyers accountable for the harm they cause while offering comprehensive services to prostituted women.

Among the South African organizations supporting the Equality Model is Embrace Dignity, a grassroots non-profit in Cape Town that advocates for the rights and safety of trafficked and prostituted women and girls, who are victims of a lethal mix of dire poverty, the low status of girls, and abuse of power. With its allies, the group is urging the government to adopt a law promoting principles of equality, protection and dignity enshrined in the South African constitution.

A few miles from the breathtaking splendor of quasi white-only neighborhoods and the golden coast of Cape Town is Khayelitsha, an impoverished shantytown, where most of Embrace Dignity’s clients or “sisters” live. There I met Zanele*, a shy but resolute sex trade survivor who works with Embrace Dignity.

“What I wanted was go to school and get skills to make a living,” said Zanele who is now 22 and was sex trafficked at 16 years old, a status that did not melt away when she came of legal age. “Everyone who sells her body has to take drugs or alcohol to do it. It’s not a job and if prostitution becomes legal here, it means your daughters will do it too.”

Sex buyers are the bedrock of the highly profitable sex trade; without them the sordid multi-billion dollar business would collapse and sex traffickers would have no place to park its prey.

Also, while the Commission presupposes severe penalties for those who commercially sexually exploit children, it excepts adult prostitution. How will the government identify “adult prostitution?” Will there be protocols asking prostituted women their age of entry into the sex trade, histories of childhood sexual abuse and whether they have pimp-boyfriends? What systems will be developed to discern 17 year-old sex-trafficked children from 18 year-old “consensual ‘sex workers’”? Will these procedures include nightly brothel checks for identification? If so, South Africa would quickly find that the percentage of those who truly “consent” to prostitution is infinitesimal. Minimal research on the horrors unfolding in countries that have either legalized or decriminalized the sex trade would enlighten the government about the true meaning of “consent” to prostitution.

“Women die at the hands of their buyers, the police and their pimps,” said Soraya Mentoor, executive director of Embrace Dignity. “I fear witnessing an increased number of coffins built if the South African government legalizes prostitution; sexual violence will be for sale with impunity.”

The British abolitionists who campaigned for Sara Baartman’s freedom faced many of the same challenges presented today in addressing sex trafficking and prostitution. Sara traveled to Europe of her own free will, people said. She testified in court in her trafficker’s favor, a trauma-triggered response that probably prolonged her ordeal. Instead of accepting the sex trade as an inexorable component of society, we must rip apart the poisonous recipe that colonizes both the earth and women’s bodies: I see, I want, I invade, I own. And when prostitution is involved: I justify as inevitable.

Today, from Washington, D.C. to Nairobi, increasing calls for a free market approach to the sex trade willfully ignore the deaths and unspeakable harms suffered by prostituted people at the hands of sex buyers and exploiters. Like the voyeurs at Piccadilly Circus, we are applauding or silently accepting the commodification of women’s bodies, indifferent to their stories of despair and brutality.

President Nelson Mandela succeeded in repatriating Sara Baartman’s remains almost 200 years after her traffickers first sold her and stripped her of her human dignity. In Sara’s memory, South Africa must urgently provide its forgotten daughters with viable alternatives to the sex trade and teach its sons about harmful masculinities. It has the opportunity to become the first African country to adopt an Equality Model, recognizing that prostitution destroys lives and human rights. As Madiba once said, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”

We hope South Africa heeds his wisdom.

*Not her real name

 

This article was first published in the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/taina-bienaime/decriminalizing-prostitut_b_10693526.html? and it is republished here with the permission of the author.

 

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Building on our 2016 successes

We were involved in a range of exciting initiatives in 2016 and accomplished much in last year. Along the way we learned many lessons as we strived towards the goals we set at the beginning of the year alongside fellow staff and Board members, Sister Survivors, stakeholders and friends all over the world. We will continue to apply these lessons as we build on what we have learned in 2017.

In March 2016, our former Executive Director, Soraya Mentoor, was invited to serve on a panel organised by the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International) at the Commission on the Status of

We were involved in a range of exciting initiatives in 2016 and accomplished much in last year. Along the way we learned many lessons as we strived towards the goals we set at the beginning of the year alongside fellow staff and Board members, Sister Survivors, stakeholders and friends all over the world. We will continue to apply these lessons as we build on what we have learned in 2017.

In March 2016, our former Executive Director, Soraya Mentoor, was invited to serve on a panel organised by the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International) at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60), held in New York City in the United States. Mentoor, along with Ruchira Gupta (Founder and President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide in India) and Zoya Rouhana (Founder and Director of KAFA in Lebanon) shared the extent of sexual exploitation of women and girls in their respective countries and regions during this trip.

In the months that followed, we successfully completed the last phase of our Exit Programme. We are currently in the process of collating all the data, which will inform the comprehensive Exit Model we are creating. The Model is a tool that can be used as a reference or guideline for other organisations or government departments aiming to implement exit strategies for women in prostitution or sex trafficking. We plan to share the Model with our government with the hopes that an Exit Programme will be incorporated into the legislation governing Adult Prostitution, no matter what model is implemented in this country.

After our mid-year review in June 2016, we embarked on our new Strategic Plan, which guides Embrace Dignity in its quest to become the leading voice in South Africa advocating for the Equality Model to be adopted by our President, Mr Jacob Zuma.

In this regard, we have:

  • Secured dates to train members of parliament in the four different legal frameworks in late February 2017.
  • Held meetings in Parliament with the Chairperson of the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus to introduce the Equality Model Law.

In early November 2016, Embrace Dignity and Equality Now Kenya hosted a four-day conference to look at emerging legislative measures to combat sex trafficking. This was held at the Lagoon Beach Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. This unique gathering brought together professionals and activists from eight African countries working to end sex trafficking and prostitution in Africa.

“One of the objectives of the meeting was to identify ongoing law reform initiatives in different countries regarding sex trafficking and prostitution, and to foster collaborations and partnerships between participants with the aim of identifying shared objectives to address sex trafficking and prostitution in select countries in Africa,” says Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

The most visible accomplishment of 2016 was the launch of our Survivor Initiatives. Through this initiative, we were able to support Sister Survivor, Grizelda Grootboom, who completed and launched her book, EXIT!, in early February. EXIT! has been well-received by the public with Grootboom’s story shared on and in various media (TV, radio and print). During 2016 she also completed a contract with the Gauteng Department of Health where she was involved with their 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign.

Mickey Meji, an experienced activist who previously worked for SWEAT, is also being supported by Embrace Dignity while she establishes her non-profit organisation, Survivor Empowerment and Support Programme (SESP). At the same time, Meji is in the process of also initiating a survivor movement called Kwanele, which will be spearheaded by Sister Survivors. To this end, she facilitated a four-day workshop to mobilise Sister Survivors and to educate them about the four different legal frameworks which are: total criminalisation (the status quo in South Africa), non-criminalisation (also known as total decriminalisation), legalisation and partial decriminalisation (pioneered in Sweden and also known as the Nordic or Equality Model).

A third Sister has launched an online funding initiative for a much-needed Dignity House which will serve as a transitional shelter for people wishing to exit prostitution. She has also secured a contract with the City of Cape Town to conduct workshops to raise awareness about prostitution at various Cape Town schools in 2017.

On 25 November, Embrace Dignity hosted an event which included a panel discussion focused on the ongoing trauma experienced by women wishing to exit prostitution. Val Kadalie, CEO of City Mission, and Madlala-Routledge were joined by Nomathamsanqa Thema Tsilite (Survivor) and Sibusiso Banda (a former inmate who now heads up City Mission’s Ex-Offender Programme) in this discussion.
Vera Qwesha, the author of My Journey: From Grass to Grace also shared her own exit journey. Her book has been hailed as an ‘inspiration and a warning’ by Independent Online (IOL) and tells the story of her transformation from a life of prostitution and drugs to that of a motivational speaker and successful businesswoman.

On the same day, we also launched our new website, which will help us to engage more effectively with all our stakeholders, and unveiled our more modern-looking logo. This is the logo that you will now see on all our branded materials in future.

Following Mentoor’s departure, Madlala-Routledge returned to Embrace Dignity in October to once again take the lead at organisation.

“We ended off the year by launching our #IAmNot4Sale campaign as well as garnering support for changes to the laws governing prostitution through a petition which we will handover to President Zuma as soon as we have gathered enough support,” explained Madlala-Routledge.

“With the success of our Exit Programme, and the launch of various new strategies, projects and initiatives in 2016, last year proved to be a truly successful year for Embrace Dignity. As we look at all the exciting things we have lined up for 2017, we are positive that we will have yet another successful year in which our efforts to positively change the lives of people in prostitution will reap great returns again.”

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Meet our volunteer: Movern Magari

Embrace Dignity volunteer, Movern Magari, recently joined our team to assist with our Survivor Initiative Programme. Magari completed a degree in Women’s Studies and Independent Studies at Lancaster University in London. She has recently been involved with organising the Feminism in London conference, which advocates for equality for women, with particular emphasis on survivors of prostitution. Magari believes passionately in the rights of women to lead a free and equal life in the eyes of the law, and works consistently and conscientiously to this end. Before becoming a mother, Magari worked in catering and hotel management. She has experienced firsthand the prejudice and unfair treatment of mothers seeking custody orders and the removal of parental rights when sexual abuse is not believed or taken seriously by the courts. Magari has also worked as a personal assistant to people living with spinal injuries and other disabilities.

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