The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) says it is mediating conflicts between residents of Durban suburbs such as Glenwood and the police on one hand and the sex workers trading in these areas.
The CGE says it is busy investigating cases of ongoing assaults, intimidation, victimisation and even rape of sex workers in these areas after a formal complaint was lodged by Sonke Gender Justice. Thabile [name changed], a 26-year-old sex worker, said she has been working in the Glenwood and Berea area for more than three years now.
“I was introduced to this work by a friend after I told her I was struggling and alone. I couldn’t take care of my two children. She said I must come with her one evening. Since then I have been working like this almost every day,” she said.
She says she sometimes gets picked up by police who have demanded either bribes or sex to let her off.
“When they don’t have money to buy food they come to us to demand bribes. Just because we want to carry on doing our work we give them between R50 and R200. Others are real dogs they will take you away and when they reach a quiet corner they will demand sex or a blow-job,” she said.
Apart from running away from the police, sex workers said they are abused and intimidated by residents of these areas. Busi Mthethwa, another sex worker in the area, said she has borne the wrath of members of the local residents’ associations.
“I have seen some aggressive women coming with police to chase us out. They accuse us of luring men and chasing away people of the area. They forget one thing: it is their men who come to us for our services, which they don’t get at home,” she said
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesman, Major Thulani Zwane, denied that officers are working in concert with residents to abuse, assault or intimidate sex workers. He said sex work was illegal in the country and officers are often called to do their work. “Sometimes we arrest these women for loitering and they are given fines and let off by the courts. If anyone has evidence of abuse, or worse, even rape against our police officers they can come forward and report the cases or even approach the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and those officers will face the wrath of the law,” he said.
Sisonke Sex Workers Movement’s provincial coordinator, Thuli Khoza, said sex workers in Durban have been under siege from both the police and the residents.
“We have held several meetings with the residents so that we can find common ground. But their attitude is very hostile and unhelpful. We always remind them that sex workers are not doing what they are doing by choice. But they are forced by poverty and other factors to sell their bodies,” she said.
She said the solution would be for government to decriminalise sex workers so that there could be a red light district where sex workers meet their clients in the open. “Until then sex workers will be obliged to ply their trade wherever they can.”
But residents of suburbs like Glenwood, Berea, Morningside, Umbilo and Overport are concerned that sex workers devalue their property and that their presence lead to an increase in crime. Heather Rorick of Bulwer Community Forum denied that local residents and the police have ganged up to attack sex workers. She said, though, that her organisation is fighting to have sex workers removed from the area. “We have tried to have discussions with individual sex workers to get them to ply their trade elsewhere. Sometimes they simply swear at us and tell us we cannot do anything to them,” said Rorick. She added that businesses that once thrived in the area are now relocating.
Mbali Msweli, who owns and lives in a flat in Davenport Road, said: “We are raising families and our children often watch these sex workers making out with their clients on the quiet corners and parks.” Taryn Powys, the provincial legal officer at the CGE in Kwazulu-Natal CGE said her organisation is trying very hard to find a lasting solution to the problem. “It’s a bit of a problem because on the one hand sex workers complain about how police are mistreating them, assaulting and even raping them, and how residents are also assaulting and intimidating them. Residents have their own complaints, which are just as genuine. We have to strike a balance between these groups,” she said.
She said past meetings organised by the CGE between the sex workers’ representatives and the residents have been inconclusive, as neither side was willing to compromise.
She said the CGE will hold a national sex work workshop in Johannesburg from 1 to 4 June where this issue will be discussed.
“We have invited a variety of organisations, religious groups, residents, traditional leaders and government officials, to participate, and some of the testimonies will be given in camera [in secret] and others will be given in the open. We hope that we can move forward on the issue of sex work in the country,” she said.
Source : GroundUp