Sex workers in Johannesburg have called for the decriminalisation of sex work to help make their work safer. This comes after the bodies of six women who are believed to also be sex workers were found on Sunday in one of the buildings close to where they work.
“What happened on Sunday shocked me. I could not believe that six women could be found dead in one place. What happened to those ladies is painful,” said sex worker, Julia (35), who is originally from Maputo. She said, although they see horrible things on a daily basis, this has shocked them and shows that they need protection from the law.
“Decriminalizing sex working in South Africa will bring help because there will no more abuse by police and other people. We will have places where there will be security, or we will be able to have our own private security that will be patrolling to check that no one is abusing us,” said Julia.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, she pulled up a picture of her parents back home and said her whole family back home is dependent on her financially and this is the only job she has.
Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) said that the criminalisation of sex work feeds into the violence that sex workers face. “It provides a legal foundation to the discrimination and violence targeting sex workers who are simply trying to work to support themselves and feed their families,” said the organisation in a statement.
Sisonke Gender Justice, National Coordinator, Kholi Buthelezi said the deaths of the six women might have been avoided if the government had heeded their calls over the past 20 years to decriminalise sex work.
Another sex worker, Zee (35), said she does not think decriminalisation will make any difference. "Decriminalisation of our work won’t make any changes, South Africa is a corrupt country. The police will release the criminal, then the criminal will come back and kill you," said Zee, who is originally from KwaZulu Natal and has been working as a sex worker since 2010.
* The names of sources have been changed to protect their identities