/ 31 July 2008

Report says sex work should be decriminalised

Sex work should be decriminalised and regulated by the same labour legislation as other sectors of the economy, an Institute for Security Studies report recommended on Thursday.

Senior ISS researcher Chandre Gould told media in Pretoria at the launch of the Selling Sex in Cape Town study that the only ”rational” conclusion to be drawn was to decriminalise their occupation.

”The criminalisation of sex work means that the industry is unregulated, and this creates conditions that allow employers to engage in practices that would be considered unacceptable for other kinds of employment,” a summary of the study said.

The study showed that while there was evidence of human trafficking of prostitutes it was not widespread or a ”significant feature”.

Eight women — of the 164 interviewed — had experienced trafficking-like practices. However almost all of these had happened in the past. The study acknowledged that some women may have escaped its notice.

”While sex workers are often subject to exploitative or abusive working conditions, very few [in Cape Town] are forced to sell sex,” said the report.

Gould said that some sex workers chose the line of employment while others had been coerced, grossly exploited or easily deceived — a type of ”hierarchy of victims” had been set up.

”It sets up victims who need help and victims who don’t,” she said.

She said a number of the sex workers felt that the work was a rational alternative because they could earn more money than they could in other jobs commensurate with their skills.

”There are those people who are quite in control of their circumstances … A number of women spoke about it being empowering.”

She said that self-employed sex workers (11% of those who were indoor-based were self-employed) had much more flexibility in that they only worked when they needed to and did not have to pay a brothel owner or pimp a portion of their earnings.

Street-based sex workers tended to work independently — only 3% worked for pimps at the time of the survey.

On the size and nature of the industry in Cape Town, the study said there were just over 1 200 sex workers in the city. Almost 250 of them worked from the streets — the outdoor industry — while about 964 worked in brothels or independently from houses or apartments — the indoor industry.

Sex work was largely undertaken by black South African women between the ages of 24 and 28. Only 5% of the workers were foreign nationals.

The main reason for entering into the industry was financial. In terms of clients, sex workers and brothels said their clientele was very mixed in terms of ages and income group and many said clients tended to be married men over 30.

Few clients sought foreign or very young sex workers.

”Despite the perception that there are a large numbers of children being forced to sell sex, the researchers found no evidence of children in brothels,” the study said.

The research also found some ”unexpected” trends in clients’ demands such as sex with a pregnant woman, unprotected sex and someone who would take drugs with the client.

Other key conclusions from the study included that sex workers were aware of the nature of their work and that the best way to detect and prevent trafficking was to monitor and regulate the industry and encourage reporting of abuse and exploitation.

The study was conducted in Cape Town by the ISS in collaboration with Nicole Fick from the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Team (Sweat). The findings were launched last month in Cape Town.

The survey was the first complete analysis of sex work in a South African city and the methodology used could be a base for similar research in other cities, Gould said. – Sapa