Decriminalised Prostitution Harms Women!
The “Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation SA” (CESESA) hereby submits arguments in support of the facts that a decriminalised sex industry is the worst possible policy for South Africa. We make this submission in consideration of the dire social realities in the nation and the warnings of policy failures on prostitution internationally.
This statement is also released in response to unsubstantiated claims made by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) that “the decriminalisation of sex work is the only viable approach to protecting and promoting the rights and dignity of sex workers.” These claims were made at a one-sided meeting of the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus at Parliament this week where members of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development apparently discussed “the possible decriminalisation of sex work.”
International studies reveal the policy of decriminalised or legalised prostitution failed wherever it was implemented. Instead of protecting the human rights and dignity of women trapped in the sex trade, decriminalised prostitution had the exact opposite effect. The policy of legalisation or decriminalisation is a gift to pimps, brothel owners and crime syndicates – the very people who mercilessly exploit women and children for profit. A decriminalised sex industry also significantly expands prostitution rather than contain it – luring many more vulnerable women and children into a life of unspeakable sexual exploitation, abuse and misery.
Despite the failures of decriminalised prostitution internationally, Amnesty International released a report supporting this failed policy. “The National Centre On Sexual Exploitation” in Washington DC responded, “Amnesty International has developed a policy document supporting full decriminalization of prostitution. Decriminalization of prostitution is one of the world’s most disastrous approaches to the sex trade because it is a gift to pimps and sex buyers allowing them to carry out their activities as mere “sex business operators” and “customers,” and normalizes the sexual violence and exploitation inherent to prostitution as a form of “work.” If approved, Amnestyâ€™s support of decriminalized prostitution will undermine the human rights of persons in the sex trade (the majority of whom are females), and give impunity to perpetrators of sexploitation.”
South African society suffers high rates of sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children. Domestic abuse of women and children are also at intolerably high rates. Considering these disturbing facts against the backdrop of soaring rates of unemployment and endemic poverty renders decriminalised prostitution in South Africa illogical, unsustainable and untenable.
CESESA affirms that South African policy should move in the direction of exit programs, rehabilitation, education and reintegration of exploited individuals – this in an effort to uphold the dignity of people as enshrined in the South African Constitution. The implementation of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act should remain the focus of government and civil societies attention.
Likewise, the implementation of policies pertaining to the eradication of gender-based violence must remain a top priority. Although CESESA has not managed to reach consensus on comprehensive policy proposals for Prostitution Law Reform, it does however agree unanimously that a decriminalised sex industry would be disastrous for the nation.
In addition to the facts laid out above, CESESA is convinced that decriminalised or legalised prostitution in South Africa is untenable because its assumed effective implementation depends largely on competent policing. The work of the South African Police Service (SAPS) is currently seriously undermined by high rates of corruption and incompetence. Significantly however, even in nations where law-enforcement is effective, decriminalised or legalised prostitution seriously undermines the abilities of police to monitor, regulate and prosecute incidences of criminality in the sex industry.
Research indicates that when the sex industry is decriminalised or legalised – the links between prostitution and organised crime are not broken. This fact coupled with serious shortcomings of effective and competent law enforcement makes it impossible to implement and regulate a decriminalised sex industry in South Africa.
In fact, as is the case in parts of Australia and New Zealand, a larger and more profitable illegal sex industry operates alongside the legal sex industry with many organised crime figures controlling brothels and street prostitutes in both sectors. In all the cases researched, state authorities lost control of the legal sex industry and failed to regulate it. CESESA urges government to declare prostitution an act of violence against women.