Embrace Dignity proposes a coherent, rational solution to a fatal flaw in the Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Femicide

This op-Ed was written by our Founder Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

There is a fatal flaw in the proposed National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide released by the government in May 2020. The flaw is the implied recommendation for the decriminalisation of “sex work”, which we prefer to call the system of prostitution as it forms part of systems of oppression, including patriarchy, classism, sexism and racism. As outlined in the statement made by UN Undersecretary and Executive Director of UN Women, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “those who buy (sexual) ‘services’ are perpetrators of violence against women, and this is who the law should hold accountable. We agree with UN Women that prostitution is one of the worst forms of men’s violence against women.

We strongly assert that to include the decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ in the call to “revisit and fast track all outstanding laws and bills that relate to GBV and Femicide” is fatally flawed for the following reasons:

  •  There is no law or Bill on our statutes that deals with the decriminalisation of ‘sex work’. The term ‘sex work’ was invented by the sex industry as a way to try and normalise prostitution. The use of the term is just a slight of hand to opportunistically introduce an idea that has not even been debated in the country.
  • The call seems to have been made opportunistically at the end with no discussion, consultation and consensus on this issue in the process of drawing up the strategic plan.
  •  Referring to the prostitution system as “sex work” is opportunistic and an attempt to normalise an exploitative and coerced transaction, where the buyer is exercising power and money to gain access to another’s body for their own sexual gratification.
  • Prostitution is neither sex nor work, but coerced consent and exploitation. While some may argue it is consensual, the fact is that it is coerced by the money and it is therefore not free or mutually fulfilling.
  •  It does not fit the ILO definition of decent work, as it is exploitative and often violent. The seller has to numb and disassociate themselves to survive the pain and repeated bodily invasion.
  • Prostitution is inherently harmful. It cannot be made safe.

What to do about Prostitution

What to do about prostitution is a controversial issue, sometimes referred to as a wedge issue because it divides all parties and sectors. This explains why political parties avoid doing something about it. The lives of arguably the most marginalised members of our society, the ’sex workers’, are daily put at risk at the hands of men who abuse their power to buy their access to women’s bodies, and corrupt law enforcement officers. Fortunately this issue has come to the fore following the Presidential Summit held in November 2018 and the publication of the National Strategic Plan to End Gender Based Violence and Femicide by our government in May 2020.

While we agree that the bought, sold and exploited must be decriminalised and assisted to find alternative forms of employment, we totally disagree with the call to also decriminalise the sex exploitation industry as a whole. Those exploiting the position of vulnerability caused by factors such as poverty, childhood sexual abuse or abandonment or race and gender inequality should remain criminalised. Focusing on ending the demand and supporting exit from prostitution as part of a comprehensive strategy to abolish the oppressive system is the only effective strategy for addressing the violence inherent in the prostitution system.

Prostitution is a complex issue. While some see prostitution as a harmless transaction between consenting adults, others consider It to be inherently harmful and exploitative. Dealing with prostitution is not simply a matter of morality. It is an issue of human rights. Prostitution is one of the oldest forms of oppression, targeting the most marginalised in society.

The debate on prostitution needs to be wide-ranging and informed by considerations of what’s best for our country and in line with our constitutional and international obligations. We need to build national consensus and put aside our personal preferences on the issue, in the same way we have dealt with other controversial social issues, like the choice on termination of pregnancy or smoking in public places. We need to engage, not just those who are directly affected. We need to approach it with cool heads. We need to engage from an informed position and not simply from a knee jerk reaction to unemployment and poverty, or a laissez faire approach of commodification of everything that sells. We need to look at the socio-economic drivers of prostitution as well as the research on the harms of system of prostitution and learn from the experience of countries that have gone before us in dealing with this issue. We must relate this debate to the context of high unemployment, high levels of violence against women and girls, gender inequality and poverty. The debate must involve those with direct experience of the lived reality of the harms of the system of prostitution, whose voices have been missing in the debate so far. We have much to learn from their lived experience of the harms and trauma they have survived in the prostitution system.

Embrace Dignity is fully behind this unprecedented national thrust to eliminate gender based violence and femicide, a societal problem of unimaginable proportions, and a national disaster. We would in fact wish for the President to have declared a state of disaster, considering that the rapes and killing of women in South Africa is one of the highest in the world. Catharine MacKinnon (1993, 1994, 2006) a leading legal scholar, author and campaigner for women’s rights has equated the harm of rape to torture and genocide.

The Declaration makes overarching commitments focusing on the underlying factors that contribute to gender based violence. Commitment 10 states: “A targeted, social behaviour change programme to address patriarchal values and norms and structural drivers of gender-based violence …targeted at all sectors, including individuals, families, communities, civil servants, religious and traditional leaders, the private sector, the media community and others that are strategically placed to influence attitudes, behaviours and practices, supported by an effective, resourced communication strategy” (Declaration of the Presidential Summit Against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide). The South African Law Reform Commission has produced a report of a review of the current laws on adult prostitution and has released a report with two draft bills, which must still be tabled and debated in our parliament.

The SALRC report dismissed total decriminalisation as a policy and legislative framework and said this would be disastrous for our country with our levels of violence against women, high unemployment and poverty. The decriminalisation of “sex work” would be counter-productive as it would lead to the expansion of the exploitative industry, which is already getting out of control.

Sex sells

Prostitution is a lucrative ‘industry’. There are huge profits made by the sex industry. A research report conducted in 2014 estimated the sex markets in the United States to be worth anywhere from $40 million to $290 million (close to R5 billion) in seven cities profiled in the government-sponsored report by the Urban Institute.” As they say, sex sells. A survey by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates that sexual exploitation rakes in $99 Billion globally and accounts for 66% of the human trafficking industry, of which forced labour accounts for 28,7% and Domestic servitude, 5,3%. (Source ILO Human Trafficking Centre). The prostitution system is one of the worst forms of violence, that some women and girls face at the hands of men who buy them for sex and those who take advantage of the position of vulnerability, caused by a toxic combination of systemic oppression and patriarchy. The system of prostitution – sometimes opportunistically referred to as “sex work” – is driven by patriarchy and men’s feelings of entitlement to women’s bodies, and the system in turn perpetuates patriarchy – a vicious cycle.

A comparison of the different legal frameworks

There are three legal approaches to regulating prostitution. Prohibition, Legalisation/Decriminalisation and Abolition. These approaches are completely different and depend on national policy and the expected outcome.

  • Prohibition refers to the legislative framework where all aspects of the prostitution system are criminalised, including the buying and selling of sex, pimping and brothel keeping. This is the status quo in South Africa and most of the world. As we have seen in our country, prohibition has not successfully curbed prostitution. In fact all indications are that it is growing, especially under our conditions of high unemployment, poverty, patriarchy and gender based violence. Prohibition has not examined the fundamental socio-economic factors that drive prostitution. Instead, it punishes those that are already victimised by poverty, childhood abuse and homelessness, as well as unequal gender relations.

  • Legalisation/Decriminalisation refers to a spectrum of legal approaches including regulation. The buying and selling or sex are not a crime. Legalisation imposes certain limitations, including the requirement for registration of all those providing sexual ‘services’ and defining ‘red light zones’ – specific areas where prostitution is allowed. Decriminalisation refers to an approach where there are no laws restricting the buying and selling of sex except for regulating its activities .

  • Abolition recognises prostitution as a system of oppression and puts measures in place for its eradication.

Total decriminalisation has not worked in New Zealand, the only country that has adopted such a legal framework and policy. In New Zealand, brothel-keeping, living off the proceeds of someone else’s prostitution, and street solicitation are legal in New Zealand and have been since the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) 2003 came into effect. It is important to note that the PRA was passed by 60 votes to 59 with one abstention. No other country has followed the New Zealand experiment, and as Melissa Farley has pointed out, in New Zealand decriminalisation has not stopped the violence, stigma, prejudice, and more importantly under-age prostitution has increased.

As shown in countries that have chosen the legalisation route, like Germany, The Netherlands and some states in Australia and the United States of America, one of the consequences of legalisation or total decriminalisation is the significant increase and extent of the prostitution system, as well as an increase in organised crime and human trafficking.

Germany, which passed a law legalising prostitution in 2001, has seen a massive growth in the sex industry, as documented in an article published by the Economist. In a report titled: “Prostitution in Germany: A giant Teutonic brothel: Has the liberalisation of the oldest profession gone too far?” the Economist compares Germany and Sweden’s legal approaches.

Since 2001, prostitution is legal in Germany, but different states and cities enforce different limitations on where and how it can happen. The law in Germany aimed to remove the stigma of prostitution by for example, giving those selling sex full rights to health insurance, pensions and other benefits.

According to the law Germany those selling sex are required to register with the government and undergo regular health checks. However, according to DW news, only about 33,000 of those selling sex have officially registered in Germany, out of a government estimate of 400,000. This shows that legalisation has not removed the stigma. It is not clear whether the promise of better health has materialised, especially as exemplified by the real danger of contracting the Corona virus in addition to sexually transmitted infections and physical and mental trauma related to the sex, where the levels of post and ongoing traumatic stress are recorded as very high.

Two years before Germany went the legalisation route, Sweden pioneered a different approach, known as the Swedish model, Nordic Model, Sex buyer law or Equality model. The Sex Purchase Act in 1999, was part of a basket of legislative measures for tackling gender based violence. The Equality Model is a form of partial decriminalisation that decriminalises only those selling sex (mostly women) and gives them a right to safety and bodily integrity. Simultaneously, it criminalises those buying sex (from men) and those who profit from the exploitation of the vulnerability of others. Since 1999, the Equality Law has gained traction and has been adapted and adopted by a number of countries, including Norway (2009), Iceland(2009), Canada(2014), Northern Ireland(2015), France(2016), Ireland(2017), and Israel(2018).

The Equality Law is the only clear and coherent strategy for reducing the demand for prostitution. It would be in our country’s interest to consider the Equality model adapted to our context of high levels of violence against women, high unemployment and high levels of inequality. Fortunately we are half-way there. In 2007, parliament amended the Sexual Offences Act and criminalised the buying of sex. Section 11 of the 2007 Sexual Offences Amendment Act prohibits engaging sexual services of persons 18 years or older. What we need to do now is to decriminalise the bought, sold and exploited and support them to exit, while retaining the criminalisation of all the other aspects of the prostitution system.

There are indications of growing support for the Equality Model in South Africa.

  •   In December 2017, the ANC adopted a resolution at its 54th Elective Conference calling for a process to determine the societal norm on this issue. Resolution 2.28 states: “The calls to decriminalise Sex work must be subjected to a high level discussion and engagement with relevant multiple stakeholders, and to continue to engage society on this to determine the societal norm. Sex workers must be protected.”
  • In June 2018 the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) unanimously adopted the Embrace Dignity Petition Report and the Study Tour to Sweden Report and called on the Minister of Justice to study the reports and consider the Swedish Model for dealing with prostitution. This was in response to the Embrace Dignity petition. In 2014 Embrace Dignity petitioned parliament to set up a multiparty ad-hoc committee of both houses to investigate the harms of prostitution and legislative frameworks that would address these harms.
  • The High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change Report Recommendations calls for: “Parliament should use its powers to introduce the following legislative changes to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007 with regard to protecting those who sell sex. The Act should be amended to decriminalise prostitution in order to remove the unintended consequences arising from the criminalisation of prostitution for those who sell sex. Other legislative provisions contained in national, provincial and municipal legislation criminalising prostitution for those who sell sex or making it an offence should also be amended. 
  • The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) Report includes partial decriminalisation (a form of the Equality Model) as one of the two legal options in their report. The SALRC completely dismissed total decriminalisation.
  •  Minister Masutha said: “Looking at it of course from a South African perspective, looking at where we have high rates of poverty and looking at all these factors and what would be best suited to South Africa and they are essentially finding that decriminalisation is not suited or the best ideal for South Africa.”

Minister Masutha called for a national dialogue on this complex issue. The lack of clarity on national policy on prostitution has resulted in confusion within the criminal justice system. The release of the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) Report released in May 2017 by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Adv Michael Masutha, and the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery gives us an opportunity to debate policy on adult prostitution from an informed understanding of all the issues involved. Often people pronounce on this issue from gut feeling or other reasons, without the relevant information and research, which we now have at our disposal.

The aim of the investigation by the SALRC was to “review the fragmented legislative framework of all statutory and common law sexual offences.” The statutory provisions under review are contained in the Sexual Offences Act 23 of 1958 (The Sexual Offences Act). The secondary aim was “to consider the need for law reform in relation to adult prostitution and to identify alternative policy and legislative responses that might regulate, prevent, deter or reduce prostitution.”

The SALRC indicated that “as there are a range of legal responses to prostitution in open and democratic societies, it is essentially a matter of policy to decide which legislative model accords with governments‘ goals and strategies.

After considerable consultation and research, the SALRC presented its report to the government in 2015. The South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) report on adult prostitution was released during a press briefing held in Pretoria on 26 May 2020. The report carries two legislative recommendations. The first option which is the Commission’s preferred option is to retain a totally criminalised legal framework. This option is coupled with an opportunity for people in prostitution to divert out of the criminal justice system so that they can access supportive resources and systems in order to exit prostitution if they should choose to do so.

The second option favours the partial criminalisation of adult prostitution. This option criminalises all role-players engaged in prostitution with the exception of the person providing the sexual service.

The first option is also known as prohibition. This is the present law in South Africa. As we all know, prohibition has not worked, even with diversion. Its main flaw is that it does not address the underlying socio-economic drivers of prostitution. Instead, it punishes the victims while those exploiting them are left off the hook.

Reflecting on the drivers of prostitution Masutha said: “The report also notes that the prevalence of prostitution in our society and the inherent exploitation associated with it are primarily social phenomena, which reflect deep-seated economic and sexual inequalities. This situation is perpetuated by the limitations in the laws that are supposed to deal with these social issues. For this reason, the report contains both legislative and non-legislative recommendations” (Masutha, 2017: Media briefing on Adult Prostitution Report).

Also known as partial decriminalisation, the second option is preferable, as it shifts the burden of criminality and stigma from those selling sex out of desperation and it gives them an opportunity to leave the exploitative prostitution system. It targets on eliminating the demand by criminalising the purchase of sex and the profiteering by third parties such as pimps and brothel keepers. Embrace Dignity has modified the bill along the lines of the Equality Model, suitable for South African conditions, which we have shared with the government, and we are ready to make submissions when the government tables the bill in parliament.

The Equality Model is the only coherent strategy for addressing prostitution and its harms. As stated by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, the law should target those buying sex or profiting from the exploitation of women. As she puts it, they are the perpetrators of violence against women. In relation to commitment 17, we are most concerned that the broad brush approach of decriminalising the whole ‘sex work’ industry, is counterproductive and will perpetuate patriarchy, and increase violence and the objectification of women. By passing a law that targets the demand, Sweden has shown us that it is possible to change public opinion and behaviour. They have twenty years of experience to prove it. Having passed the Sex Purchase Act in 1999, Sweden has seen a reduction in both street prostitution and human trafficking. The law has shifted the stigma and accountability from the bought, exploited and sold, to the exploiters and perpetrators. It is no longer cool to buy sex in Sweden. We urge our government to adopt the Equality Model as part of effectively dealing with gender based violence a fatal blow.

Read more

A female sex trade survivor : I wanted to escape but I didn’t know how to

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

For Phindiswa Klaas, 35, working in the sex trade was not something she had ever thought about. She had grown up in Engcobo in the Eastern Cape with her mother and four sisters.

“Then, in 1998, I moved to Cape Town with my father’s family,” she says.

Living in a household with 13 people in the the under-resourced area like Site B in Khayelitsha, Phindiswa had little hope that a great future awaited her. Then, she met a young man who soon became her boyfriend.

Soon after they had met, he encouraged her to leave her family.

“He said ‘come and live with me’. And so I went,” she says.

“Towards the end of 2001, I was pregnant with our first daughter, and I moved in with him, but his sisters kicked me out of his house, telling me that I am very young to stay with a man. I told them that I am pregnant with his daughter and then they allowed me to stay,” she recalls.

Then, her boyfriend took her to the neighbours who began telling her that there were job prospects in Mfuleni, which is about 5km away from Site B.

Her boyfriend gave her R20 for transport, and off she went.

“When I got there I met some ladies and said: ‘Please, I want to join you in whatever business you are doing’. I needed money and they were getting money.”

The women, seeing that she was clearly still in her early 20s, told her she was too young for such business but she was desperate for money and insisted.

But the horrors of the work soon became very apparent to her: “In that period, I quickly became more trapped in system of prostitution and my first experience is when a sex buyer dragged me to very dark bushes and sexually abused me and left me lying helpless in those bushes.”

It was two years later when she was desperate to get out of the system that she took up voluntary work for the ANC. By then, the boyfriend who had pimped her was no longer around.

“After volunteering, I got a job opportunity, a three-months contract. By that time I found a boyfriend who was also permanent working for ANC, and he married me.”

When the three-month contract was over, Phindiswa felt like her life could get back on track, but once again she had no income. She and her boyfriend had had a baby, so now she had two children, and no money.

She then found a job as a parking marshal, and still held hope that things would turn around. But the salary was so small it could hardly be called a living wage.

“Bear in mind that I was still married so where down the line my husband discovered that I’m a prostitute things became very bad at home and he divorced me,” she says, adding: “I knew what I was doing was not right and I wanted to exit prostitution but I did not know how.”

Pretended she sold drugs

Phindiswa had another baby girl, and saw no other way of making a living. She says that the hardest part about it was doing it to feed and clothe her children, while also having to hide from them how she was making a living.

She once even pretended to them that she was selling drugs as a way of explaining her secretive behaviour. But her children remained suspicious.

“A man would come to the house and if he left a bottle of brandy, for example, my children would see it and ask: ‘Is there a man here? Why was there a man here?’”

After years of finding herself in sexually and otherwise abusive situations just to earn a living, Phindiswa finally joined an NGO, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce. Here, she campaigned with others for the inclusion of sex workers as respected and valued members of society, and carried on working as a sex worker.

But later she realised that this did not fit in with her own ideology. She felt like the sex trade had violated all her human rights and no longer wanted to campaign for it to be seen as a legitimate way to make money that should be regulated and its workers protected.

Earlier in 2019, she joined the Kwanele survivors’ movement and says: “Enough is enough.”

Read more

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



An open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa regarding  “decriminalisation of sex work” in South Africa

Dear Mr. President,

As women with first-hand experience of being prostituted in South Africa, we the movement of the survivors of the system of prostitution – predominantly poor black women from disadvantaged backgrounds – wish to express our shock, concern and disappointment at your recent support of the full decriminalisation of the sex trade at the opening of the newly built court in Johannesburg.

You state in your address that all relevant stakeholders will be – or have already been – consulted in this process. However, we do not feel that our viewpoint has been clearly heard. Our leader and founder wrote an open letter to you last year, stating our concern regarding the adoption of a resolution by the African National Congress to work towards decriminalizing the exploitation of vulnerable women and girls- referred to by you as “sex work”. Then, on the 23rd August 2018, two hundred of us, representing hundreds of other women from seven provinces delivered a memorandum requesting that you look into this matter and that you meet with us so that we can further elaborate on our arguments. However, we have yet to receive a response.

We would like to bring to your attention the fact that 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 the sexual gratification.  Many of us have been severely injured, raped, degraded and even murdered by the pimps who sell us in this very exploitative system, and by the men who pay for access to our bodies. We think by now you should have started to understand why it is that we are concerned, disappointed and shocked that you pronounced that your government intends to fully decriminalise all aspects of the sex trade.

We need some clarity from you, in terms of what it is exactly that you mean by decriminalization of “sex work”? Do you mean decriminalization of pimping, brothel keeping and sex buying? If this is the case, please do take note of the following scenarios and let us know how your proposed and or preferred law will prevent this from happening?

Twenty-three years ago, Theresa “Trish” van der Vint said good bye to other prostituted women who were sexually exploited alongside her daily until late afternoon in the three-lined stretch of Old Faure Road near Eerste Rivier in Cape Town. Most of the women who were older rushed home to be with their families but the then 16-year-old Trish stayed on the beat a bit longer. As dusk fell that Saturday, a man stopped his car near her and picked her up. Once she was in his car there was no way out.

A few hours later her body was found lying half-naked in the sand, covered with branches near a footpath near Macassar Beach. Her legs were spread apart, her skirt pulled up and her jacket twisted around her neck and face. She was the nineteenth recorded victim of the “Cape Prostitute serial killer”. Murdered on 15th May 1996, Trish was his last recorded victim and also the youngest.

Eight years ago, the boyfriend of a woman whose body was found stuffed in a drain near Wessels Street in Pretoria, suggested that Wendy Riketso could have been murdered by her Nigerian pimp, from whom she had run away. There were confirmations from others that the said pimp had been harassing her and had at several times attempted to kidnap her. She was reported to have been prostituted.

In April 2013, Nokuphila Khumalo, another woman who was reported to have been in prostitution, was beaten to death in Woodstock. Renowned artist Zwelethu Mthethwa has been convicted of her murder and it is claimed that he was a sex buyer.

On 18th August 2014, the headless body of a prostituted woman, Desiree Murugan, was found by municipal workers at Shallcross Stadium in Durban. It is reported that the four teenagers who were convicted of her murder had bought her for sex at the time and then murdered her. Since she was prostituted it was argued that she was an easy target for them.

As if all of this was not enough, in January 2018, another woman, twenty-year old Siam Lee went missing from what is reported to be a brothel in Durban North. Her charred body was found two days later on a farm in New Hanover. Philani Ntuli, the man accused of her murder, is reported to have been her last “client”. In fact, many women who are prostituted and members of KWANELE have since identified Philani as a sex buyer.

If your decriminalization law is implemented how can will this prevent cases similar to those reported here from happening? How will full decriminalization of the sex trade remove the permanent physical and psychological scars the prostitution system incurs on women? How will decriminalization teach men that women’s bodies are not for sale? Finally how will it assist South Africa achieve gender equality, dismantle patriarchy and end men’s violence on women?

Finally, we would like to bring your attention to the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) Report issued in 2017, which recommended that South Africa does not enact a law which fully decriminalises the sex trade. Instead, one of its two key policy recommendations was that the Republic follows the Nordic or Equality Model, which has been successful in ending the exploitative system of prostitution. It has gained momentum since it was first pioneered in Sweden in 1999, followed by Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, the Republic of Ireland and Israel. Founded on the principle of gender equality it recognises and reflects the inherent inequalities within prostitution and aims to protect the rights of prostituted individuals.

We look forward to your response on this very important issue and hope we can meet with you in person to discuss this further.



Mickey Meji                         Nonhlanhla Duma                 Nonhlanhla Mkhize             Dudu Ngwenya                   Yongama Vula
Assaria Sungano                Xoli Gwala                             Ntombikhona Mlondo          Xoliswa Gqabuza               Tamara Nkohla
Julia Kgatlhane                   Nonhlanhla Mkhize               Zonke Khawula                    Nomakhosi Maqabela        Nomhle Bengu
Linda Ketje                          Philile Ziqubu                       Thobile Mbhele                     Lisa Ayetuah                      Noluvuyo Vuthela
Babalwa Phuthumo             Nontando Ngcobo                 Nosisa Caluza                     Lumnka Nyarhashe           Nomvuyo Dlokwenu
Hilda Tlou                            Athini Shabalala                   Ntombenhle Buthelezi          Ntomnizandile Maweyi       Ncumisa Pondo
Sithembile Gumede            Fanele Mdletshe                   Nontsikelelo Madikazi           Thozama Mfuleni               Yonelisa Jack
Nompumelelo Limekhaya   Thembisile Mzolo                 Zandile Gumede                    Zingisa Hoyo                     Phumza Ngxeba
Zinhle Dlamini                     Mabongi Zikhale                  Thembi Dlamile                      Kelly Ngwenya                Nolukholo Dyantji
Mary Mkando                      Ayanda Mncwabe                Zandile Mlaba                        Pamela Qashani              Sizeka Nyeleka
Thulisile Khoza                   Khanyisile Molefe                 Mapule Dick                           Nontando  Nongwe          Zikhona Jawuka
Phindiswa Klaas                Sbongile Mbongwana           Phindile Sibiya                        Nolusindo Mfuleni            Ntombekhaya Khunjuzwa
Sphindile Cele                    Nandi Dlamini                       Nosihle Mthembu                    Faith Ncube                     Lwandile Somdaka
Pulani Lesole                      Nomusa Duma                     Sthembile Gumede                Nokuthula Qaqavu            Suzette Jacobs
Nolwazi Ngwenya               Zama Mthiyane                    Zandile Biyela                         Sindiswa Tiyane           Nandipha Maqabela
Dudu Manana                    Siziwe Mngwemba                Sphe Dhlomo                          Georgina Chima             Vuyiseka Tsetse
Delia Scheepers                 Hlengiwe Chili                       Nandi Bhebhe

Read more


Having grown up in a racially segregated country like South Africa, it was somewhat challenging to offer sex services to people I was not familiar with. I used my body to be defiled by different men from all over the world for money. Those clients came in different shapes and sizes with different racial groups such as Asians,Indians,Whites and Blacks. They had different tastes and preferences some wanted very strange or odd services.
As I reflect on my experiences, I came to realisation that the sex industry is not as glamorous as it is projected by those who lure people into it. There is untold economic, emotional and physical strife that prostituted women experience. Clients treat  “sex workers” like objects and consequently ill-treat them badly. Entering prostitution is to slip from one world to another because I could see many girls losing all that they had because of drugs, some were brutally killed, raped and strangled and some died through drug overdose. The memories are always resurfacing for sometimes at night I would lie down and tears will be rolling on my cheeks thinking about the pain and the trauma of prostitution up to different scents and smells of all those clients and also a lack of self-worth. The journey I traversed was very thorny and I can never wish it for anyone. I may have come back alive but the scars run deep.
Prostitution undermines women’s rights to gender equality and dignity by commodifying the sex act and treating women as objects to be bought, sold and abused. All women in prostitution are marginalized and exploited, therefore prostitution cannot be considered as work as it is a structural economic and patriarchal form of violence against women. As a result of this most prostituted women always say that they would leave prostitution if given other options as they do not regard it as dignified and decent work. And all the “sex workers” who have indicated with a high level desire that they would be doing something else under different circumstances, women expressed the desire for skills development programmes, formal jobs and assistance in business start-ups.
Vera Qwesha is a former drug addict, survivor of prostitution and author of My Journey from Grass to Grace, her own autobiography. 
Read more


I do not want my children to follow up my footsteps.

I got into the system of prostitution when I was 13 years of age to assist my mother who was also at the time in the sex trade to raise my four younger siblings. Even though my mother was in the sex trade, life was not easy and we struggled a lot hence I had to also stepped in and assisted.

After my mom passed away, my life became so difficult that I ended up marrying a person who was a thief.  Being married to a criminal was not easy at all, that is what most of us women in prostitution are exposed to; eventually my husband was murdered leaving me with children to take care of.

This whole situation forced me to go back again to the street to sell my body in order to take care of my children. Prostitution has undermined my dignity so much that I am not even respected and I’m called names such as marhosha –  that what women who sell their bodies are called , sefebe – a whore etc in front of my children.

For most women in prostitution including myself, prostitution is not a free choice but a choice some of us had to make because of circumstances and those vary but in my case, it was poverty and seeing my mother doing it.

My mother was in the sex trade for many years yet she died having nothing and I came out of it empty handed hence because of this my siblings didn’t managed to finish school and our mother left us homeless, it is definitely not a future we can offer our girls as a profession.

The system of prostitution must end now; we need to deal with our poverty and to protect our dignity now. The life I live is not a life I’m proud of, we face many challenges in the streets with the buyers. They beat us, murder us and rape us and we are afraid of going to the police because they also do not take us serious.

I was not able to give my children a straight answer when they wanted to know where I work, to make matters worse they are all girls. I still would not be able to give anyone a straight answer even if prostitution is decriminalized tomorrow because it is not work to be proud of.


Read more


My name is Zenande I am from the rural areas in the Eastern Cape.

I entered into the sex exploitation industry in 2011. I needed money and I was hoping to save that money to return to Varsity as I dropped out due to financial constraints.

I was so young and much in demand. Yet it was always difficult for me to price myself in terms of the services I offered. I came up with a plan to make it easier for me I asked a veteran prostituted woman who was a roommate of mine to put up the prices and she did.

From the onset the rules that I set were not being adhered to by these many men I encountered. It really depended on the money and the fantasy they had and most times they would change from the initial agreement and did as they pleased.

My first violation would be when someone would ask me “uthengisa ngamalini ? “– meaning how much are you selling for?

My heart would throb as I couldn’t give selling my soul to the devil a price and that price would be so disgraceful with my street experience I guarantee that there’s no amount of money that can compensate one for sexual intercourse with unknown males.

The other challenge is the time frame because as long as the man hasn’t reached an orgasm then he can have sex with you for however long he wants. And then there’s that gentle reminder with piercing eyes that says I have paid for having sex with you therefore submit yourself and let me finish “ngikhokhile,ungangijarhi!”  – meaning I paid so don’t rush me! I’ve also experienced being beaten up, raped and money taken back when I failed to fulfil the needs of these men.

The last straw for me was when I had a client for the night who ordered me to go down on him without any protection. He refused to use a condom and kept on bragging to us about how well off he was. He took me and a friend for the night for R2000 each. So our lives were worth a mere R2000.

I had to run around trying to find pep and in every clinic I went to I was told I knew my risk when I started selling my body therefore I cannot get pep. I had to pretend I was mugged and raped; it was easy because I had a blue eye and a broken rib from the struggle with that man so I got my pep. I realised I’d rather remain uneducated or seek any other way than let these men bruise and break me. The fact remains I got bantu education and today my matric is stale as I now celebrate 18 years of matric and nothing else. I am one of the few survivors that have internal scars but HIV negative by the grace of God.

Read more