It’s unlawful to purchase or promote intercourse in South Africa. However this may occasionally quickly be a factor of the previous if a just lately revealed draft invoice to decriminalise intercourse work is handed. Researchers and activists Marlise Richter and Monique Huysamen set out what’s within the new regulation, what’s good about it and what nonetheless wants work.
What’s envisaged beneath the proposed new regulation?
If the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill 2022 is handed, South Africa will develop into solely the second nation on the planet to completely decriminalise intercourse work. It could now not be unlawful to purchase or promote intercourse. New Zealand is the one different nation the place that is the place.
The draft regulation proposes the elimination of the criminalisation of shopping for and promoting of intercourse. It additionally proposes to clear the prison data of those that have been prosecuted for purchasing or promoting intercourse.
Predictably, numerous teams have pushed again in opposition to the invoice, totally on ethical grounds. Opponents of the invoice advocate that both:
- the present regulation that absolutely criminalises all points of intercourse work stays in place; or
- that intercourse employees are decriminalised however that shoppers stay criminalised.
This final concept is drawn from what’s known as the “Nordic mannequin” – an strategy adopted by some Nordic countries, together with Sweden.
Why is full decriminalisation in South Africa so vital?
Ladies in South Africa face very excessive ranges of gender-based violence. Feminine intercourse employees are much more uncovered than different girls. A latest study confirmed that 70% of feminine intercourse employees had skilled violence up to now 12 months. Greater than half had been raped by intimate companions, police, shoppers or different males. Criminalisation normalises violence within the intercourse work context.
One other argument for decriminalisation pertains to well being. HIV prevalence of between 39% and 89% has been documented amongst feminine intercourse employees throughout totally different areas of South Africa within the final decade. That is extraordinarily excessive when in comparison with the nation’s national HIV prevalence rate of 13.7%.
Intercourse employees are particularly vulnerable to HIV an infection due to the numerous risks related to intercourse work in a criminalised context. Intercourse employees sometimes have many sexual companions. Their working circumstances are precarious and unsafe. And the unequal energy relationship between intercourse employee and consumer makes it very onerous to constantly negotiate safer intercourse.
The social stigma hooked up to intercourse work additionally implies that some healthcare suppliers maintain prejudiced and vindictive views against sex workers. These views can drive intercourse employees away from well being providers, together with HIV prevention, therapy and assist.
The repeal of outdated apartheid-era laws would have a far-reaching, constructive impression on individual sex worker health and well-being and due to this fact additionally public well being.
If intercourse work was not against the law, shoppers and police would not have the facility to abuse intercourse employees. Intercourse would be capable to usually negotiate protected intercourse. Police must take their complaints critically. Intercourse employees would additionally really feel extra assured to report discrimination and disrespectful healthcare employees.
Beneath decriminalisation, intercourse work can be recognised as work. Occupational well being and security and truthful labour ideas would apply. Decriminalisation is especially vital for the dignity of poor black intercourse employees from working class backgrounds, who at present bear the brunt of the stigma related to the criminalisation of intercourse work.
What’s the Nordic mannequin?
The Nordic model is a authorized framework adopted by a number of Nordic international locations, together with Sweden and Norway.
In line with this strategy, promoting intercourse must be decriminalised, however shopping for intercourse stays against the law.
The mannequin assumes that criminalising the shoppers of intercourse employees would dissuade individuals from shopping for sexual providers, and thus finish the demand for intercourse work.
Analysis in international locations which have adopted this exhibits that it has not made sex work safer for sex workers, nor has it eradicated sex work. Proof additionally exhibits that criminalisation of shoppers is bad for sex workers’ health.
If shopping for intercourse is illegitimate, intercourse employees have much less time to screen out dangerous clients and shoppers can put stress on intercourse employees to conform to dangerous transactions in compromising conditions.
South Africans have had painful classes about why the state has no business in people’s bedrooms. The apartheid-era state prohibited intercourse throughout “color” and “same-sex” configurations which South Africa subsequently strongly rejected beneath democracy. But this similar regulation nonetheless survives for grownup, consensual intercourse work.
Why arguments in opposition to criminalising shoppers must be resisted
Our analysis exhibits that whereas many of the clients of sex workers in South Africa are males, they’re a various group from all walks of life. Some are violent and abusive in the direction of intercourse employees. However many are usually not. Some intercourse employees report having mutually respectful interactions and contracts with clients.
In our analysis, only a few males self-reported perpetrating violence in opposition to intercourse employees. Most actively distanced themselves from the violence related to males who pay for intercourse, making it clear that they did not engage in or condone violence against sex workers.
Primarily based on our analysis and that of others, we believe that the decriminalisation of shoppers would have constructive spin-offs.
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First, recruiting shoppers who’ve been recognized by intercourse employees as non-violent and respectful as peer educators may instil and reinforce constructive norms amongst shoppers.
Second, shoppers are effectively positioned to function whistle-blowers after they discover human rights violations equivalent to human trafficking or little one exploitation within the intercourse business.
Third, shoppers will be key to reducing HIV transmission. Scaling up antiretroviral remedy amongst shoppers of intercourse employees would avert virtually one-fifth of new HIV infections in South Africa over the following decade.
Learn extra: Why South Africa’s HIV prevention programmes should include sex worker clients
The Nordic mannequin is flawed and demonises shoppers. Placing intercourse work shoppers in jail punishes them for purchasing a service. That is in the end unhealthy for everybody’s well being.
The draft invoice must be handed as it’s and as shortly as doable.
It is going to make intercourse work much less dangerous and harmful, and our society safer.
Marlise Richter, Analysis fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society, College of the Witwatersrand
Monique Huysamen, Senior Analysis Affiliate in Sexual and Reproductive well being, Manchester Metropolitan College