“The impact of the Coronavirus on prostituted individuals both in South Africa and across the globe is, pun unintentional, nothing to sniff at,”. So says survivor of prostitution and KwaZulu-Natal Kwanele survivor movement leader Siphindile Cele. She adds that prostituted persons – men, women and transgender people – are there purely by force by pimps and brothel owners and poverty in order to put bread on the table, feed, clothe and educate themselves, their children, grand-children and even great-grandchildren. As if that is not enough, they also have to pay their rent and their pimp out of the proceeds of them being prostituted.
“Nobody would knowingly take on a job where their life is guaranteed to be at risk, however this is the daily reality for an ever-increasing number of unemployed South Africans, predominantly women but certainly also male and transgender people,” Cele continues.
She states that, if anything, men hold more power over prostituted persons in times when not as many men may choose to pay for sex for fear of catching Coronavirus.
Those men that do still buy sex from prostituted persons may very well insist on sex without condoms and the prostituted person may end up agreeing to this purely because that may be the only sex buyer that day and their earning power may be less during the period that the Coronavirus is prevalent.
Cele asserts that it is the common experience of prostituted persons that Kwanele works with that sex buyers are, since the outbreak of the Coronavirus in South Africa, fearful of making contact with them not least because the nature of prostitution entails interaction with a wide number of people on a daily basis. She hastens to add that the Coronavirus is not transmitted sexually but through respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing or talking.
“It is difficult enough getting sex buyers to use a condom, however Coronavirus presents unique challenges in that – being a non-sexually transmitted illness – one cough or sneeze is enough to infect the recipient,” Cele says.
She adds that prostituted persons almost without exception have:
– No health insurance;
– No entitlement to any welfare or social benefits.
“Coronaviruses spread through droplet transmission,” she says, so sanitizing surfaces and maintaining a distance between people are key to containing it. These precautions are not always practical for homeless individuals, who often lack access to soap and hot water and stay in crowded shelters. They also have a high rate of poorly treated chronic illnesses, putting them at a greater risk of a severe COVID-19 infection. Once people without homes get sick, they may lack the proper care required to get better, including a comfortable place to rest, warm liquids and medications. Unhoused people throughout the nation may soon face similar challenges.
In the light of the Coronavirus pandemic, more than ever the Kwanele survivor movement is calling on the South African government to urgently pass the Abolitionist Equality Law, also known as the Nordic Model.
“This would in no small way serve as a measure to slow down this pandemicat the same time as protecting prostituted persons. The Coronavirus pandemic is making it all the more difficult for prostituted persons to exit the system of prostitution. Their income options are all the more limited than usual. These individuals have a right to an alternative, to financial safety in order to exit the vicious cycle inherent in the abominable system of prostitution. Any alternative merely drives prostituted persons into a corner and exacerbates their already critical situation”.
Cele adds that as prostitution inherently makes prostituted people vulnerable, they are alone with strange men who have no interest in their health, safety or well-being.
“As prostituted people, we are desperate and have no other options,” she says.
“Men who pay for sex know this and they use that power knowing that prostituted people have no choice otherwise they would not be there. These men are violent, abusive and selfish as is and at the best of times will not use a condom or care to use any preventive and protective measures and prostituted persons will certainly fall victim to exposure to this new virus.”
Embrace Dignity and Kwanele call on the State and Parliament to enact the Abolitionist Equality Law, which is the only legal framework with a clear and coherent strategy for addressing the system of prostitution and its harms. The Abolitionist Equality Law, also known as the Swedish Law or partial decriminalisation, decriminalises those bought, sold and exploited in the system of prostitution and supports them to exit while all other aspects remain criminalised. This law was pioneered in Sweden and has been adopted by a growing number of countries, including Canada, France and Ireland.
As an advocate of the abolitionist Equality Law, Siphindile Cele is calling for the Abolitionist Equality Law through legal and policy reforms that decriminalises prostituted people and offer them a way out of the system through a comprehensive Exit programme.
Key aspects of this model include the following:
* Buyers and pimps are criminalised
under this approach in order to reduce demand for prostitution.
* Sex buyers are criminalised, subject to punishment.
* Facilitators / traffickers are culpable for ‘procurement’ or trafficking and are subject to punishment.
* Those who exploit others through prostitution are criminalised.
* Sellers are decriminalised.
* Resources are provided for individuals to exit prostitution.
he law has been implemented with great success in Sweden and has been adopted by a growing number of countries, including:
Sweden – since 1999
Norway & Iceland – since 2009
Northern Ireland – since 2015
France – since 2016
Republic of Ireland – since 2017
Israel – Jan 2018
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