SAPS urged to be more nice to sex workers – Gay man forced to strip naked to prove he is a woman

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ILL-TREATMENT of Kwazulu-natal sex workers by law enforcement agencies has allegedly escalated during lockdown, and now an urgent call to the government for an intervention is being made by advocates of the trade.

Sonke Gender Justice, a human rights organisation, released a report this week detailing the experiences of KZN and Western Cape sex workers between 2020 and the ongoing 2021 lockdown.

The study, titled Side-lined: Experiences of sex workers throughout the lockdown, authored by Fulufhelo Ramabulana, paints a picture of abuse of power and a continued deliberate violation of sex workers’ human rights by police.

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The majority of these sex workers are between the ages of 25 and 34 and either work on the streets, brothels, are escorts or provide services over the internet.

Ramabulana said sex workers shared that law enforcers were often verbally, emotionally and sexually abusive, and that instead of offering protection, more harm and trauma was inflicted daily. Criminal cases were not treated with urgency, and were often ignored or not taken seriously.

“Sex workers expressed that they experienced a lot of discrimination. Some even avoid going to report cases because they fear law enforcement that much. Instead of getting assistance, trans women experienced a lot of transphobic attacks when reporting cases to the police,” Ramabulana said.

A sex worker who was allegedly assaulted by police and opened a case with police watchdog IPID, said her case was never investigated.

“SAPS was abusive to the extent that they beat me with a sjambok, and I went to open a case against them, the case went nowhere. When I tried to follow up, they said the investigating officer was on leave. Till this date nothing has happened, and the bruises have vanished.

“They mocked and made jokes of my gender, asking me questions like what I am selling because I am a man. They even forced me to undress in a Quantum full of other police and they were laughing at me. There was also another man in the Quantum that they had arrested when they made me undress, who was watching,” she said.

Another sex worker said when she went to open a case of stabbing, police assumed she had stolen from the client and refused to help.

Over and above those issues, Ramabulana said the lockdown had affected incomes as operating hours clashed with curfew times. Missed appointments could not be rescheduled due to various other commitments.

“Sex workers who participated in the study also said that they could not run their businesses any more because it was just too risky, considering the possibility of being infected with Covid-19, and even if they did operate they would not be making half of what they are used to making.

“Some felt that even though they could attempt to work, their conditions were harder as their clients felt that their services were not as pleasurable as before, since sex workers now had to observe Covid-19 health measures and could not take part in certain sexual practices,” said Ramabulana.

Ramabulana concluded that the study had proven that the working conditions were unacceptable and that discrimination continued to prevail.

“Because of the industry being illegal, sex workers could not apply for government relief funds, which left them more exposed to exploitation and many different illnesses and diseases,” Ramabulana said.


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