South African Law Reform Commission

Pretoria – The long awaited report of the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) on adult prostitution was released on Friday.

The SALRC undertook the report with the aim of reviewing the fragmented legislative framework that currently regulates adult prostitution in the country.  The report, which also explores the need for law reform in relation to adult prostitution, was approved by Cabinet in April.

The report, which took two years to complete, found that prostitution in South Africa is driven by a complex interplay of social and economic drivers that include poverty, inequality and unemployment.

It indicates that exploitation, particularly of women, is inherent in prostitution and depends on contingent external factors related to gender violence, inequality and poverty, and that such exploitation does not arise merely in response to the legislative framework.

The report concludes that changing the legislative framework could create an “extremely dangerous cultural shift”, given the high rate of sexual crimes that are being committed against women and may render them even more vulnerable than at present.

The report also notes that the prevalence of prostitution in society and the inherent exploitation associated with it are primarily social phenomena, which reflect deep-seated economic and sexual inequalities.

This situation is perpetuated by the limitations in the laws that are supposed to deal with these social issues.

Despite mounting public and official concern about prostitution, the report found that South Africa has no clear strategy for dealing with prostitution, either on a primary and preventative level or on a secondary and intervention level.

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Sexual Reproductive Justice Coalition (SRJC) Aids Health Foundation ( AHF) NACOSA

31 May 2017

Article by: GroundUp

Numerous sex work, public health and gender advocacy organisations have expressed dismay at the recommendations of the long awaited report on sex work compiled by the South African Law Reform Commission.

The report recommends that consensual adult sex work continue to be criminalised or alternatively, that partial criminalisation is implemented. Partial criminalisation would mean that the sex worker is not criminalised.

The report was compiled by Judge Mandisa Maya, Judge Jody Kollapen, Professor Vinodh Jaichand, Irvin Lawrence, Advocate Mahlape Sello and Namhla Siwendu.

Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) questioned whether the release of the report now, after having delayed its release for many years, was simply a “smoke screen or a PR stunt on the part of the Department of Justice who are scrambling to defend themselves in light of reports of increased femicide and violence against women”.

The report states: “Prostitution in South Africa can also be viewed as an aspect of male violence against women and children. South Africa is grappling with high levels of violence against women, with sexual assault and intimate partner violence contributing to increased risks for HIV infection. Changing the legislative framework could create an extremely dangerous cultural shift juxtaposed against the high numbers of sexual crimes already committed against women. Women would be considered even more expendable than at present.”

The report also says that exploitation “seems inherent in prostitution and depends on the external factors of gender violence, inequality and poverty”. The Commission believes that changing the current legislative framework would “not significantly alter” sex workers being exposed to violence and exploitation. Instead, they state that a shift away from criminalisation would cause an increase in child prostitution and would increase the demand for sex workers.

“The Commission is aware that criminalising demand will not end prostitution, but believes this step would significantly reduce prostitution because it would target the demand which drives the selling of sexual services,” it states.

“Diversion” programmes are recommended for sex workers as an alternative to punitive measures such as imprisonment or fines. These punitive measures would be considered if the sex worker “refuses to co-operate regarding rehabilitation, training and reintegration”.

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Multi Party Womens Caucus

30 May 2017 


Parliament’s Multi-Party Women’s Caucus (MPWC) has noted that the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) released its report on ‘Sexual Offences: Adult Prostitution’ on 26 May 2017.

The MPWC is deeply disappointed with the recommendations made IN the report. Committee Chairperson Ms Masefele Story Morutoa said notwithstanding vociferous public opinion from women’s rights groups and sex workers, the report concluded that changing the legislative framework could create an “extremely dangerous cultural shift juxtaposed against the high numbers of sexual crimes already committed”.

Consequently, it put forward two policy options, namely that of partial criminalisation (criminalising the buyer, not the sex worker) and the option of total criminalisation with diversion. It includes two proposed draft amendment Bills to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act). These legislative amendments are based on the models of partial criminalisation and that of total criminalisation with diversion.

The SALRC report seeks to review the fragmented legislative framework that currently regulates sex work within the larger framework of all statutory and common law sexual offences. It further seeks to identify alternative policy and legislative responses that might regulate, prevent or reduce sex work.

The report, made up of four chapters, covers an overview of the investigation and is followed by an examination of issues pertaining to sex workers, clients and third parties respectively. The report considers the policy options of different models, namely that of total criminalisation, partial criminalisation, regulation and non-criminalisation.

The Committee said while the report notes that sex work is linked to exploitation and gender-based violence, it oblivious to the fact that the legalisation of sex work would allow sex workers to access the criminal justice system. This has been pivotal to the calls made by many sex workers calling for full decriminalisation.

The Committee further said the report’s recommendations turn a deaf ear to the vociferous voice of sex workers in this regard and is thus not linked to evidence. “The full decriminalisation of sex work is the only model that respects the rights of sex workers with the potential to address the HIV crisis facing South Africa,” said Ms Morutoa.

The Committee also stated that while the legal response should take into account the high rate of violence against women, the challenges of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, it should also adopt a progressive, rights-based approach. “The report, in taking the stance of continued criminalisation, is out touch with how to promote women’s rights in allowing them to make choices about their bodies. It is patronising in its approach of seeking to protect women, while ignoring the voices of those who are in the industry,” said Ms Morutoa.

The Committee said that overwhelmingly the view is that such protection can best be achieved through full decriminalisation. The MPWC therefore will have a meeting tomorrow this regard and will be meeting to explore avenues to take this matter forward.


Sonke Gender Justice

29 May 2017

Marlese Richter  

I am writing to you now that my fingers can type again after feeling numb with disbelief at the South African Law Reform Commission’s recommendations released just before the weekend.

Dear Sex Worker friends and colleagues and allies,

There were rumours late on Thursday afternoon that the Department of Justice and Correctional Services would brief the media on law reform options on Friday, but I found it hard to take seriously. This project has been dragging on for close to 20 years – for 10 of which I have been a proud ally in the ranks of inspirational and brave sex workers and sex worker human rights advocates calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, and pushing hard for the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) to release its proposals.

Why would the department suddenly come alive on a wintry day in late May, when the whole country is scrambling and screaming in anger at the scale and brutality of gender-based violence (GBV), and demanding robust plans and clear targets from government? Sex work has never been high among government’s priorities. I frowned in bafflement at this strange timing.

“Ahhhh!” – I gasped when I eventually read the report. “This is their way of responding to violence against women, to abuse of women, to the relentless endangerment that women in our country face every day!”

“Prostitution” supposedly is “inherently exploitative”. And by recommending that South Africa continues to criminalise all aspects of sex work, our government could at last address violence frankly and honestly.

I scratch my head at the commission’s own internal logic. It doesn’t make sense. The current criminal law – the one the commission says must stay – has contributed directly to a climate in which sex workers are murderedabusedrapedexposed to HIV and dumped like cheap chips wrappers. How does “more of the same” address the problem of violence and risk and broken female bodies?

Reading further, I note that the commission has added an unexpected bonus or a little reprieve. It gives you, the sex worker, the option to avoid jail time if you apply for rehabilitation. Yes, the commission recommends that you be put into a diversion programme where you receive free “intensive therapy” to help you along the righteous path and towards the correct vocation.

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All Women, All Rights – Sex Workers Included

Serra Sippel

This week, Amnesty International will consider adopting a policy calling for the decriminalization of sex work. The policy is a response to the stigma and discrimination and high rates of human rights abuses and violations that sex workers experience globally.

“Stigma can be seen as much in the violence committed against sex workers as in the way many women feel they must hide their profession from their partners, family and children. Standing up for our rights with pride is one of the most effective ways we have found to combat stigma,” said the late Gabriela Leite, former sex worker, political candidate, and social justice advocate from Brazil.

The Amnesty policy reflects decades of advocacy by sex workers and their allies including public health professionals, human rights advocates, and women’s rights organizations who have called for decriminalization as a critical measure to promote the health and human rights of adults who buy and sell consensual sex.

According to Amnesty’s draft policy, there is a growing body of research that indicates criminalization exposes sex workers to increased risks of human rights abuses, which is why CHANGE – an organization that advocates for the health and human rights of all women – supports the proposed policy.

CHANGE, like many other women’s rights organizations, believes that human rights are universal, they are for everyone. Sex workers are no exception.

Criminalization creates an environment of stigma, discrimination, and systematic exclusion that prevents sex workers from accessing health and support services and increases their risk of violence and abuse. It creates barriers to sex workers’ involvement in the development and implementation of effective health interventions, including HIV and STI prevention and treatment and reproductive health. And it silences sex workers themselves, who have struggled for full decriminalization, access to services, human rights protections, and dignified and safe working conditions for decades.

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Peace Society

29 May 2017

Lynzi Armstrong

In 2014, a sex worker pursued a brothel operator who had sexually harassed her through the Human Rights Tribunal. She won her case 

Sex work laws are a topic of hot debate in several parts of the world, including the UK. Even policy experts in this area can’t agree on the best way to protect sex workers’ rights. While some advocate the criminalisation of clients, sex worker-led organisations disagree; they say banning the purchasing of sex places sex workers in even more danger. Instead, they are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work – an approach which has been in place in New Zealand since 2003. 

Myths abound regarding New Zealand’s model, including unsubstantiated claims that the sex industry has expanded, with pimps emboldened in the wake of the new law, and that sex trafficking is rife. So what do we really know about New Zealand’s policy of decriminalisation? 

The passing of the Prostitution Reform Act followed years of work by New Zealand’s sex-worker organisation, the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. Its purpose was to minimise harm, and so the law change not only removed legislation that criminalised sex work, but also afforded new rights to sex workers.

Decriminalisation in New Zealand differs from legalised regimes, such as that in Germany, since it focuses on empowering sex workers themselves, rather than the state, to have greater control over their work.

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How PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution pledge impedes sex worker health

13 December 2016 

The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) should end its anti-prostitution pledge. It prevents organisations that received PEPFAR money from advocating for law reform on sex work, which not only harms sex workers but is bad for health, especially HIV prevention and treatment.

PEPFAR is an initiative to diminish the impact of the global AIDS epidemic. During the 2016 International AIDS conference in Durban, PEPFAR pledged R5.7 billion ($410 million) towards the AIDS response in South Africa.2

Between 2004 and 2014, PEPFAR invested $4.2 billion (approximately R47 billion) into HIV prevention, treatment and care in South Africa, and by the end of 2015, had assisted the South African government to achieve these remarkable goals:

  • Anti-retroviral treatment for 3 million people
  • Voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention for 472,047 men
  • HIV testing and counselling for more than 9.9 million people
  • Care and support for 592,260 orphaned and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS
  • Anti-retroviral treatment for 226,369 pregnant women living with HIV to reduce the risk of parent-to-child transmission3

Yet, there’s a big problem with PEPFAR funding. PEPFAR recipients have to commit to a perplexing promise: to oppose sex work. According to the USA’s ‛Leadership Act’, all recipients of PEPFAR money have to sign an agreement with PEPFAR that commits them to the following:4

No funds … may be used to provide assistance to any group or organisation that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.

No funds … may be used to promote or advocate the legalisation or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking.

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Legal happy ending eludes ‘those people’

16 October 2015

Article by: Mail & Guardian

According to the Sexual Offences Act of 1957, it is a crime to have unlawful carnal intercourse with any person for reward. Put aside all the sugar daddy and mommy transactional relationships – sex work in South Africa is still currently a criminal offence, classified as a “B-class” or less serious crime. Solomon Makgale, the South African Police Service’s national spokesperson, says that, after arresting alleged prostitutes, the police will charge them based on “loitering for [the] purpose of prostitution”.

The South African Law Reform Commission has been investigating legal models for sex work since 2000, and has released no concrete recommendations in the 15 years that it has been busy with this process.

In late August, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, sex workers and academics from 17 organisations formed the Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work in South Africa.

Asijiki is the isiZulu word for “no turning/looking back”. The coalition is made up of participants from a cross-section of society “who work towards safeguarding the human rights of sex workers everywhere”.

The coalition’s steering committee comprises the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, the Women’s Legal Centre, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sonke Gender Justice.

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United to legalise sex work

31 August 2015

Article by: The Citizen

The call for decriminalising sex workers in South Africa has been strengthened with a newly formed coalition, which aims to put an end to horrifying situations being faced on a daily basis because of non-regulation.

More than 17 organisations have mobilised to create the coalition in order to challenge issues relating to human, legal and health rights.

The Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work in South Africa brings together activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, sex workers and academics. Asijiki is the isiZulu word for “No turning or looking back”.

The coalition is made up of participants from a cross-section of society and who work towards safeguarding the human rights of sex workers everywhere.

It brings together the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, Women’s Legal Centre, the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sonke Gender Justice.

“We now have a solid platform to raise issues on how to go about strengthening our call for decriminalisation without fear of stigmatisation and prejudice,” Sisonke’s Kholi Buthelezi said.

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Coalition launched to decriminalise sex work

28 August 2015

Article by: GroundUp

In the wake of Amnesty International’s vote to adopt a policy that supports sex work decriminalisation, the Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work was launched in Cape Town on 27 August. The coalition consists of sex workers, activists, advocates and defenders of human rights.

The coalition’s steering committee consists of the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement (Sisonke), the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC), the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sonke Gender Justice.

At the launch, the national coordinator for Sisonke, Kholi Buthelezi, explained how the logo of Asijiki resembled a whip – Asijiki is an isiZulu word for “no turning / looking back”. The slogan was also used by activists during the anti-Apartheid struggle.

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Legalise prostitution to save SA sex workers’ 

26 August 2015

Article by: Health24

More than 30 sex workers have been murdered – many of them brutally strangled and mutilated – throughout South Africa during the last year. Earlier this month, Amnesty International joined a growing number of organisations in calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution as the best way to protect the safety of those working in the industry around the world.

On 26 August 2015 the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) launched a new decriminalisation coalition called ‘Asijiki’. It aims at undoing the some of the adverse effects criminalisation has had on sex workers and society.

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High time to decriminalise sex work

21 August 2015

Article by: Marlise Richter & Ruvimbo Tenga 

This month, international human rights body Amnesty International voted to “pursue a policy to protect the human rights of sex workers.” Its decision has generated much media attention and debate and has been opposed by many well-intentioned people and institutions.

Amnesty’s Questions and Answers explanation for why sex work should be decriminalised is well argued and easy to understand. If you oppose sex work, especially because you are concerned about human rights and the “exploitative” nature of the sex industry, please read it.

We wish to add a few points to Amnesty’s arguments to make it clear why sex work should be decriminalised in South Africa.

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Sex Workers and Sex Work in South Africa

1 December 2014

A Guide for Journalists and Writers

Sonke Gender Justice (2014). Sex Workers and Sex Work in South Africa: A Guide for Journalists and Writers. Sonke Gender Justice, Sisonke Sex Workers Movement, Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce, and Women’s Legal Resource Centre: Cape Town, South Africa.

The Guide has been compiled for journalists and writers involved in reporting on sex work. It sets out basic facts about the sex work industry in South Africa and contains sections on appropriate terminology, use of images and respectful interviewing techniques.

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