Sex workers: Our Love/Hate Relationship With The World’s Oldest Profession

“The fact that Nokuphila Khumalo’s work entailed sexual acts, and is criminalised, placed her and her many co- workers, at high risk of danger.

A sex worker participates in a march to raise public awareness on human rights issues in their profession on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in Skopje, Macedonia December 17, 2016.

In the early hours of the morning of April 14 2013, in Woodstock Cape Town, a man jumped out of his Porsche and for 6 minutes, kicked and beat Nokuphila Kumalo, aged 23 years old, to death. She was a sex worker who was doing what sex workers do: working. Her work entailed many hours of walking her corner, waiting for a customer, so she could exercise her right to earn a living. The fact that her work entailed sexual acts, and is criminalised, placed her and her many co-workers, at high risk of danger.

The murder of a sex worker is so commonplace that it does not usually receive much news coverage. Nokuphila’s case got media attention as the man in the Porsche is much acclaimed artist Zwelethu Mthethwa. When a guilty verdict was announced, activists from SWEAT and Sonke Gender Justice took to the streets in jubilation. Its pretty rare that a street sex worker will have justice over a famous dude in a Porsche.

Where do you stand with sex workers in your own life? Do you love sneaking sex with them either online or in massage parlours? Or do you have a vitriolic virtuous dislike for them as you mistakenly believe that they steal your men and spread sexually transmitted diseases?

“Prostitution” in South Africa has been illegal since the 1957 Sexual Offences Act and the purchase of sex was added as an offence in a 2007 amendment. In other words, you as a client are also criminalised if caught in “indecent acts” for rewards. Ask a sex worker (preferred term) to define their job and she/he/they will say they sell consensual sexual services in return for cash or payment in kind, done formally or informally, regularly or occasionally.

Decriminalisation has been under active discussion since 2009. Criminalisation is simply at odds with the Constitution which guarantees non discriminatory distribution of the same rights to everyone. Decrim, as it is affectionately known, is positive for these reasons:

  • Challenges the stigma around sex workers.
  • Secures sex workers human rights and dignity
  • Offer the full protection of labour and occupational laws.
  • Currently one third to half of all sex workers have experienced violence. Decriminalisation provides safer work and living conditions
  • Limit the power of the police over sex workers. Oh yes, police rape, harass , bribe and beat up sex workers – because they can, as they cannot be charged with an offence whilst sex work is criminalised.
  • Lower the rate of HIV/AIDS/STI’s. More than 70% of female sex workers in Johannesburg are HIV-positive.
  • The Lancet medical journal suggests that decriminalisation would have the greatest effect on HIV epidemics, averting 33-46 percent of infections over the next decade.
  • Criminalising sex work has proved ineffective, maintains high levels of violence, and leads to the spread of illness.
  • Legalisation of sex work is not the same as the decriminalisation of sex work: the power remains in the hands of the state.

You are not the only one who may have a love/hate relationship with sex workers. Seems our government is pretty confused about its relationship as well. It continues to criminalise with all the harsh consequences, and simultaneously acknowledges that this group of marginalised high risk people are never going to go away. So in 2016 the government decided to love sex workers a little by protecting them and hence our country’s men. In June 2016, as part of the South African National Sex Worker HIV Plan launched in 2016, the country became one of the first in the world to provide PrEP, a prophylaxis pill that protects against HIV, free of charge to sex workers. Whoppee… now bring on the rest of their rights. After all , sex workers are people, not just vaginas that need medical attention to protect male clients.

Consider for yourself if you have ever exchanged money for sex. 16 % of Americans have purchased sex. Perhaps you had been to a strip club, bought pornography, paid for phone sex, had erotic massages. Or maybe even paid (or accepted payment) from your significant other for a blow job either with hard (excuse the pun ) cash, diamonds or a holiday in Mauritius. Do you still hate sex workers?

MOTIVATIONS TO PAY FOR SEX

Check out this very cool infographic from the Lancet to fully get a grip on Myths and Facts of Sex Work. Sex workers call themselves “healers”. Men spend a lot of time emotionally sharing with them as they feel unheard at home. Sex workers listen attentively, making the client feel special and desired. For that hour you get an escape from domesticity, difficult painful feelings of life and freedom to express your sexuality… without partner criticism, rejection, negotiations that find you begging on your knees for sexual favours which include promises of … yes, cash.

I invite you to consider what motivates you to pay for sex… or be paid for sex. Tick off what applies to you. Add your own. And then consider whether you need to have an open honest conversation with yourself and a significant partner , about your true erotic orientation and emotional needs.

  • Want to have sex with a hot looking woman/man
  • Want to be in control. It is way easier to ask for what you want in bed if you are paying for it.
  • Indulge in a fantasy or sexual kink.
  • Less pressure as it is a simple exchange. At home there is always a deep negotiation needed.
  • Avoid complications, commitments and expectations.
  • Someone to talk to and who will listen to me as I am lonely in my relationship.
  • As a heterosexual identified man, I seek out men on occasion.

Respect the sex workers you choose to pay. Always insist on using a condom . Don’t take advantage of and compromise the health of a sex worker by offering more money for no condom. Practice good etiquette. For more information on sex workers , go to http://www.sweat.org.za