I’ve been wondering whether decriminalisation or legalisation of prostitution is the right way to go. Legalisation officially would make prostitution legal and remove any prohibitions; whereas decriminalisation removes criminal charges from prostitution however there are still laws surrounding it.
The existing discussions
In June, The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) called for a total ban of prostitution. The union stated that it was not their intention to have prostitutes convicted but to diminish the causes of prostitution. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church youth have also publicly opposed the ‘moral degeneration’ of the country.
In IOL News’ article “Legalised Prostitution: what sexworkers have to say”, Sindy a former Durban prostitute believes that decriminalizing prostitution will have no affect as women will still be raped, abused and violated nor is there a guarantee that working conditions will be improved. Vicki, a prostitute who works in a high-class parlour, viewed legalization as less of a strain on the resources of government and police services, as it is expensive and, at times considered futile.
On the fence, is Embrace Dignity, an NGO advocates for reforms to laws governing prostitution. The NGO does not believe that criminalisation or legalisation the answer but aims to provide counselling and support for sex workers, in the hopes that they can find better employment.
The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) is one of the primary leaders of the defence of sexworkers rights. They believe that sexworkers should have access to health and services as well as be respected within society. They are for the decriminalisation of sex work and the recognition of sex work as work in order to extend labour rights to sex workers.
In my opinion…
In my opinion, there is no way that a ban will eradicate poverty. All humans have the right to food and housing in this country, and if put in a situation where unemployment is ridiculously high and government and corporations alike can’t be held fully responsible for the bleak situation, a woman has got to do what she has to do. It is dire circumstances that drive someone to prostitution but taking someone’s means of survival away is not a means to an end.
There is a possibility of an increase of HIV/Aids if prostitution was legalized. Government has been urging people to stay safe for years. If prostitution was regulated, so could their policies and ‘behavioural code’, where it becomes mandatory for sexual protection.
So perhaps the real question is, ‘does prostitution rob you of your womanhood?’ Some hold the opinion that prostitution exploits women, is surrounded with violence and a patriarchal dominance over a women’s body and has awful psychological and traumatic after-effects. In this line of thought, a sex worker doesn’t consent to sex; she is coerced because of her situation.
This view is outdated, and particularly distressing as it takes agency away from being a woman- a fundamental part of the feminism I practice, is empowerment. Yes situations such as human trafficking or poverty my force you down a path, but I will always believe in active choices. Yes there are those with fewer choices, but there will always be a choice.
Prostitution has been going on since ancient civilization; you cannot claim to be uninformed. A dire situation can be summed up into a basic survival of the fittest. What will you do to survive? Personally, if there were an option between death and sex work, I would choose the latter. If I find myself in financial debt with no work opportunities and need to feed my kids, I will choose the later. I’m not glamorising it, but I am making an active choice.
Our bodies are treated like objects, unappreciated and tossed aside when there is no use for them. Now we cam view our bodies as our own tools, to use what we have to survive. Why must I be a good girl and keep my legs closed? Why do I have to be any type of girl?
Someone once told me that prostitution is the oldest job in history, whether we approve or not. So I’m for regulation, it means having a permit, regular health checks, subscribing to some sort of code that will ensure safety and protection of sex workers. It would mean being able to drag the bastard who beats you or refuses to pay, into court.
If we judge prostitutes for doing what they do, we once again segregate our sisterhood. We can’t empower women individually. We’re part of a collective.