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Protestors in Johannesburg, South Africa, are calling for sex work to be legalized.
On Thursday, approximately 200 sex workers hit the streets to demand their work be decriminalized.
“This is what I wear to work,” Dudu Dlamini told AFP. “No high heels or short skirts. It requires expertise and skills you have no idea about,” she added.
Between 120,000 and 180,000 sex workers operate in South Africa, according to aid organizations. They are tired of being criminalized and harassed by law enforcement while they try to make a living.
Sex work is prohibited under an apartheid-era law.
“The police harass us and ask us for money. And sex workers who are abused by their clients cannot just go to the police station and file a case, because they would be prosecuted for being sex workers,” Yonela Sinqu of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) told the publication.
The debate over whether the country should decriminalize sex work has gone on for years.
In 2019, researcher Skye Wheeler detailed some of the experiences sex workers undergo at the hands of law enforcement.
“Arrests can be very humiliating. One Johannesburg-based sex worker told me police officers took photographs of her breasts, probably to shore up indecency charges against her. Using threats or failing to explain the charges appears to be common practice at police stations,” Wheeler told Human Rights Watch. “So is the soliciting of bribes: police officers will pick women up and drive them around until they give them some money to avoid being arrested and locked up. Sometimes police officers even coerce women into giving them free sex.”
Because their profession is illegal, sex workers are forced to work in some of the most dangerous parts of their communities where they are often beaten and raped.
“The fact that sex workers can’t work from home or in a safe location makes them extremely vulnerable, and many have experienced violent assaults. Several of the women described being driven out to the middle of nowhere, raped, and then kicked out of the car, sometimes naked,” Wheeler adds. “One woman said she got into a car with a client who had promised to buy her services for the whole night. Once she was in his car, he choked and blindfolded her, then raped her repeatedly without a condom.”