Blog

A survivors’ group: Do not offer sex work to us as a solution

This article was published on Times Select on the 10th June 2019. 

Mickey Meji is the leader of a prostitution survivor movement called Kwanele, which is supported by NGO Embrace Dignity.

Unlike other forms of advocacy that seek to make the trade legal and regulated and remove the negative stigma of the word prostitution itself, Meji is all about an exit plan for those stuck in the system.

“South African survivors of the system of prostitution have been dehumanised, humiliated and stripped of our dignity as, invariably, black, poor African women,” she says.

She says survivors do not want the system of prostitution to be decriminalised, legalised and “offered to us as a solution for unemployment and poverty”.

“We call upon government, our countrymen and women to embrace us and shift the burden, stigma and accountability to the men who take advantage of our vulnerability,” she says.

According to Embrace Dignity, reasons that many mostly poor and mostly black women and other marginalised individuals give for entering the system of prostitution include to feed and support families.

They are pushed into the system by cycles of poverty, unemployment, retrenchment, death of a breadwinner, not completing school as a result of needing to raise or help raise siblings, and by being orphaned.

Some are also forced into it to pay off loans, while others have run away from home after being sexually and physically abused.

An international study that looked at nine countries, including SA, found that 63% of those in the sex trade were sexually abused as children. This was after interviewing 854 people working in the sex trade.

It was also found that almost 60% had been beaten as children, to the point of injury, and that 64% as adults in the sex trade had been threatened with a dangerous weapon. Physical assault was high at 71%, and 63% had been raped.

Lead author Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist, said, “We asked those we interviewed in six countries (Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, SA and Zambia) whether they thought that legalising prostitution would make them physically safer. Across countries 46% stated that prostitution would be no safer if it were legalised. It is noteworthy that in Germany, where brothel prostitution is legal, 59% of respondents told us that they did not think that legal prostitution made them any safer from rape and physical assault.”

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who founded Embrace Dignity, says: “A common thread of poverty and human rights abuses all too often runs through the life stories of many survivors of the system of prostitution.”

When there is a major sporting event, it “boosts” the industry: “We are seeing a trend with not least mega-events such as major South African horse races where women are paid to fly to the race and pander to the whims of their so-called ‘blesser’,” says Madlala-Routledge.

“While society tends to judge many of these women as materialistic and so-called millennials eager to add to their shoe collection, the reality could not be further from the truth, and we need to be clear about the reasons that resulted in them accepting the advances of a ‘blesser’ in the first place,” she adds.

Meji says that given that the SA girl child is increasingly assuming the role of breadwinner, the fate of SA society depends not least on ensuring that marginalised individuals trapped in the system of prostitution are given exit programmes.

Read more

KWANELE survivor Thulisile Khoza writes an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphoza

Open letter written by KWANELE provincial mobilisation coordinator Thulisile Khoza

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa

Hope all is well and you have rested well after the hard work of the elections and congratulations once again for retaining the power of governance.

With all that said Mr President my name is Thulisile Portia Khoza from Johannesburg and even though you may not recall but we have met a few times whilst you were still the Chairperson of the SANAC Civil Society Forum for I was one of the the sector leaders. Mr President I write this letter with great regret and concern but don’t worry I will lay out the regrets and concerns and hopefully together can rectify them.

 Regrets: Mr President I would like to start by apologizing to you and all the members of the Civil Society Forum when you were still around. I was a sector leader of the so called “sex work sector” and did not do any justice to myself (or millions of poor south african women) because I made you believe then that decriminalizing the sex trade and making it work was the way to go I am sorry and don’t blame you for believing that because myself as a survivor of the sex trade was preaching decriminalization up to the extent that you believed it was what is best for us as women.

Mr President I regret the years those words came out of my mouth and I am truly sorry. Actually that is not the future I want for myself, my child, members of my family and even for any young black woman out there. At that time I was recruited by rich white people who have never seen a future in black people and who made me believe that selling my body, soul and morals actually exploiting me was the right thing to do. Yes I agreed because I was poor, vulnerable and uneducated and you know what they say ‘working because of hunger can be dangerous for the society’.

So yes Mr President I took the job because I was desperate and wanted out of the sex trade and needed a paying job but in the process I was destroying the lives of black women like patriarchy which was designed to control the freedoms of women especially us black women. In the sex trade we are not free as women and what kind of job does that to someone.

I speak from experience as a survivor of prostitution and believe me when I say I wouldn’t wish for even my worst enemy to go through what I went through during my time as a prostitute and I know you would wish the same if you really knew what happens. It was easy for people like you to adopt the motion of decriminalization of the sex trade because the circumstances leading to trade you have not experienced and so will not your children. I quote the words of a felow survivor when she said,” Prostitution is barbaric and circumstantial and never is or would it ever be work.”

Concerns: Mr President I was concerned when you recently announced to women in Boyseens that your government was working on decriminalizing prostitution and I asked myself some questions but one that stood out for me was the issue of crime and gender based violence. South Africa is facing crimes such as rape, killing of girls and women and more especially gender based violence which is mostly experienced in the sex trade so I ask myself what effect will decriminalizing the sex trade have when all these issues are still rising factors in our everyday lives in our communities. Instead it will give rich men more power over women’s bodies and women will be treated as commodities. A fellow survivor ones said, “prostitution is a recipe and attraction of many crimes, infact it is the gateway to gender based violence.” In short crime is still an issue in South Africa and fully decriminalizing prostitution will not change the fact the high levels of physical and sexual violence against prostituted women in this country.

With all that said Mr President I think it’s time to please listen to us as survivors of this violent sex trade and by decriminalizing prostitution you would be shattering the dreams of young black women and you would be doing no justice to this beautiful and rich country of ours. This is not what Mandela, Steve Bantu Biko, Lillian Ngoyi, Govan Mbeki,  Winnie Mandela,  Albertina Sisulu and all our Black liberation struggle heroes would have wanted for poor Black women in this country. I plead with you Mr President do not be at the forefront of a global criminal syndicate with one sole purpose of destroying poor Black women. I am tired – of all the years in prostitution I left it with nothing but scars.

In closing Mr President I am a 34 years old Black woman who grew up always dreaming of being in the defence force and/or in journalism. I do not remember wanting or dreaming of being in prostitution.

Please do feel free to engage with me or thousands of survivors like me. We are movement of survivors of prostitution called KWANELE  and we who want to abolish the system of prostitution. We are advocating for the equality model which criminalises the buyers, pimps and brothel owner but decriminalises the sellers and provides exit programs for women in prostitution.

kind regards

Thulisile Portia Khoza – KWANELE Provincial Mobilisation Coordinator (Gauteng)

Read more

EQUALITY MODEL BEST PROSTITUTION POLICY

Op-ed written by Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge was published on the Sunday Tribune on Sunday, May 19 2019

The trial of Philani Ntuli, the businessman accused of murdering 20 year old Siam Lee, was due to finally start on Thursday in Durban. As the defence was not ready it has been postponed once again. The full hearing is now due to take place at the end of July.

Lee was allegedly taken from a brothel masquerading as a massage parlour on the city’s Margaret Maytom Avenue by Ntuli in January last year. Following this he held her captive for more than a day at his home in Hillcrest, continued to beat her until she couldn’t move before setting her body on fire in a field in central KwaZulu-Natal. When she was found some hours later 90% of her body had been covered in burns. She was almost completely unrecognisable.

Ntuli is also charged with a litany of other charges related to Lee’s murder including robbery, reckless driving, failing to stop at the scene of an accident, fraud and unlawful possession of a firearm.

At a previous sitting, the court heard that in March 2016 Ntuli held another prostituted woman against her will at his home. He abused and raped her but she escaped. It is also alleged that he assaulted another woman, Lucky Mthembu, to whom he was engaged in 2015.

Most women who have survived the horrifically violent sex trade know the risk of violence even of murder – from a sex buyer is high. When a man pays for sex he often thinks he can do what he wants with you. There are few if any limits on his behaviour. Researchers have also found that male sex buyers are far more likely than other men to demonstrate a lack of empathy, to show traits of “hostile masculinity”, and are more likely to be violent – including a higher propensity to commit rape.

The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) recognises the high levels of violence within prostitution – and the clear inequality between the person paying for sex and the (usually) woman who is sold for it.  In 2017 issued a report supporting partial decriminalisation as one of two preferred options. This approach, also known as the Nordic or Equality Model, was pioneered by Sweden in 1999 and has since gained traction in Iceland, Norway, France, Northern Ireland, Canada, the Republic of Ireland and Israel.

Based on the principle of gender equality it decriminalises and mandates exiting services and support to prostituted women, while maintaining penalties on pimps, brothel-owners and sex buyers. This is the only approach which has widespread support from both women who have exited prostitution as well as mainstream feminist organisations.

Another alternative that pimps and brothel-owners openly support – total decriminalisation or legalisation – has not been endorsed by the SALRC because it fuels commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

We have seen Germany become a “giant Teutonic brothel” after it legalised all aspects of the sex trade in 2002. The University of Queensland found similar trends after ten years of legalised brothels in that part of Australia, where 90% of the sex trade continued to operate in the illegal sector. Following New Zealand’s decision to fully decriminalise the sex trade in 2003 very little has been done to stem the trend of children being trafficked into prostitution. Abuse is regularly concealed by the fact that activities such as pimping, brothel-keeping and buying sex are not regulated or monitored there. Former Prime Minister John Key has openly stated that he does not think the approach has worked.

Yet, despite the enormous evidence to the contrary our President Ramaphosa has still not rejected the failed experiment of full decriminalisation and come out in full support of the Equality Model, the only comprehensive policy in line with South Africa’s constitutional values of human dignity and gender equality.

My experience of working with survivors of prostitution has further convinced me that the Equality Model is the only solution that South Africa policymakers should consider. I hope to see our country respond to the SALRC report and become the first on this continent to enact a sex trade law that reflects the principles upon which our constitution is based.

Lee’s case has shocked South Africa. The graphic nature of the violence that she was forced to endure has woken even more of us up to the realities that prostituted women are forced to face. As survivor Mickey Meji says: “Prostituted women do not wake up one day and choose to be prostituted. Prostitution is chosen for us by our colonial past and apartheid, persistent structural inequalities, poverty, past sexual and physical abuse, the pimps who take advantage of us, and the men who pay to access our bodies for sexual gratification”.

The time has come for us to decide what future we want for ALL of South Africa’s women and girls.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge is a former deputy government minister and founder of Embrace Dignity, which works to end commercial sexual exploitation in South Africa.

Read more