THE SILENT RAPE OF SEX WORKERS

In South Africa, cases about rape have become our daily news, whether you read it on the morning news headlines, watch it on prime-time television news or hear about it from your neighbour. The news has become synonymous to hearing about the weather.

However, in the wake of the #Metoo campaigns and #Thetotalshutdown, there is a group of women whose voices are still suppressed. These women put their lives on the line to keep themselves, their families and their children below the poverty line in a country where unemployment is at an average of 52.15 percent. Crimes perpetrated against these women are not taken seriously, by the law, their neighbours, their partners and even some feminists.

Women who do sex work, are part of those women who are pushed to the margins, where they’re vulnerable and exposed to sexual violence because they chose to sell sex.

In South Africa studies that have been done in the past decades have shown that 1 in 5 sex workers will be raped in a period of 12 months, by either people posing as clients, police officers or their intimate partners. This study shows that sex workers are at high risk of rape, particularly where sex work is illegal.

The rape of sex workers comes in different shapes and folds, and because the women already sell sex, they are often seen as easy targets for such crimes. In South Africa, the current criminalisation of sex work means sex workers are on the frontline of gender-based violence, in that the perpetrator knows they are unlikely to report it, and that they are vulnerable and unprotected. Sex workers are targets because of these factors and the fact that they are often subject to violent misogyny [1].

In an instance were one is raped by a client, sex workers are reluctant to report the case to the police as they fear identifying themselves as sex workers, which puts them in jeopardy of being arrested or abused by the police.

Where police are involved or are the perpetrators, even if a case is successfully opened at the police station, it is most likely that the docket will get lost, or the case will be closed due to lack of evidence. This happens because police officers often cover for each other. In a study done in Cape Town, 12% of street-based sex workers reported that they had been raped by policeman [2].

In the case of intimate partner violence, sex workers are often blackmailed by their partners and made to feel less worthy because they sell sex. Some of their partners are threatened by their independence and the fact that they are making money from other men threatens their partners masculinity which can lead them to act out by being violent.

The stigma and discrimination that is attached to doing sex work is the main cause of violence experienced by sex workers. However, they face many folds of victimization because of the moral perspectives people hold. To many, sex workers are seen as people who deserve abuse because they chose to sell sex.

The current full criminalisation of sex work in South Africa leaves sex workers vulnerable to violence, harassment and abuse, and does not provide them with the necessary protection of their rights. International experience shows that the police can help prevent violence against sex workers, but this requires a big change in attitude. Sex workers must be thought of as an at-risk group who needs protection, rather than as a ‘nuisance’ or even a group who ‘deserve’ violence and abuse.

Research has shown that decriminalisation of sex work respects the rights of sex workers, reduces gender-based violence and will increase community and individual safety [3].

What is Decriminalisation of Sex Work?

Decriminalisation of sex work is when all laws that criminalise sex work in a country are removed and sex work is governed by the same laws that affect other employment, such as occupational health and safety and employment legislation.

What is Sex Work/er?

Sex work is the provision of sexual services for money or goods. Sex workers are women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation.

*The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust organisation.

About the authors

Lesego Tlhwale is a Communication Professional and current Media & Advocacy Officer at Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), a human rights organisation advocating for the health and human rights of sex workers. Lesego is passionate about advancing human rights of LGBTI people and sex workers.
Nosipho Vidima is a Human Rights Activist, Black Feminist, HIV Rights Activist and Womxn Rights Activist. She currently works at SWEAT (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce) as a Human Rights and Lobbying Officer. Her daily work is Human Rights of sex workers nationally, where she insures that sex workers are reached with a holistic approach to accessing their basic and fundamental rights while accessing justice and legal recourse in the legal system that marginalises most women.

REFERENCES:

[1] Rangasami, j; constant, T; Manoek, S; Police Abuse of Sex Workers: Data from cases reported to the Women’s Legal Centre between 2011 and 2015; Women’s Legal Centre, 2016.

[2] Gould, C & Fick, N (2008). “Selling sex in Cape Town: Sex work and human trafficking in a South African city”. Pretoria/Tshwane, Institute for Security Studies.

[3] Manoek, S (2014). “Police Sensitisation Training Manual: A Guide for South African Police Service (SAPS) Officers to the Rights of Sex Workers and the LGBTI Community”. Women’s Legal Centre.

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Helpline & Emergency Numbers

We have put together a list of referral numbers, including national Thuthuzela Care Center’s and national emergency numbers should you wish to contact them. Although it is the festive season, the listed organisations are always here for you and those is need of support. The lists can be found below or downloaded for your disposal.

This is a list of all the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) in the Country.  Not all TCC’s operate in the same way as Heideveld and Karl Bremer in that not all of them have counsellors on 24/7 shifts.   When in doubt about where to refer someone to, i.e., you can’t find an appropriate referral in the rest of the referral file, you can put the client in touch with the TCC in their area and they should be able to give the client an appropriate referral.

Remember, if you can’t speak to anyone, speak to us.

DOWNLOAD / VIEW PDF’s HERE:

National TCC Referrals

Helpline Numbers 

48404938_1621326824633515_8787209006910275584_n