Have your say on sex work: Masutha calls for comments on changes to law
Farren Collins | 2017-05-26 16:40:31.0
Image by: Gallo Images/Thinkstock
The public will get the chance to have their say on whether adult prostitution should be legalised after the Department of Justice released a report by the South African Law Reform Commission on Friday.
Minister of Justice Michael Masutha said the government was not constitutionally obliged to change the law‚ which criminalises sex work. The aim of the report — handed to the department in 2014 — was to consider the need for reform.
In its findings‚ the commission said prostitution was driven by poverty‚ inequality and unemployment‚ but recommended that the law remain unchanged because it could create “an extremely dangerous cultural shift”‚ Masutha said.
“The report indicates that exploitation‚ particularly of women‚ is inherent in prostitution and depends on contingent external factors related to gender violence‚ inequality and poverty. And that such exploitation does not arise merely in response to the legislative framework.”
The report presented two legislative options: retaining a criminalised legal framework‚ with the opportunity for people in prostitution to “divert” out of the criminal justice system to help them leave the industry; and criminalisation of “all role-players engaged in prostitution with the exception of the person providing the sexual service”.
The second option is based on a Swedish model and is in line with recommendations by women’s rights group Embrace Dignity.
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge‚ the NGO’s director‚ said the recommendation was driven by what they had witnessed following engagement with prostituted and trafficked people.
“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‚” she said.
“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.”
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‚ revictimises them and hinders their exit as they also then carry the stigma of being criminals.”
Advocacy group Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task force‚ or Sweat‚ believes total decriminalisation of sex work is the best way to deal with prostitution‚ and that the findings in the law reform commission report are outdated.
“The Department of Justice was handed the report as far back as 2014‚ and while sex workers have been abused‚ arrested‚ fined and refused help‚ and many have lost their lives‚ the Department of Justice stood still and did nothing‚” said Sweat director Sally Shackleton.
“For us‚ it was a no-brainer: move on and propose legislation in favour of decriminalising sex work.”
“We call on government‚ listen to the evidence‚ listen to sex workers‚ listen to civil society organisations‚ listen to public health institutions and decriminalise sex work now.”