26 May 2017


Sex workers and sex worker organisations have been waiting for almost a decade for the release of the SALRC report on project 107 dealing with Adult Prostitution, “not because we trusted the results of the process, but because we thought it would at least push forward law reform on sex work” Said Ishtar Lakhani, SWEAT Advocacy Manager.

“It was obvious to us some time ago that SALRC was both biased and disorganised, the Project being driven essentially by one person’s opinion with none of the original commissioners and researchers which began compiling the report, remaining at the Commission. In fact the institution was left without commissioners for almost 2 years and which has failed in its mandate.” Said SWEAT Director, Sally Shackleton

Professor Cathi Albertyn, who worked on the Report until her term as SALRC Commissioner ended in 2011, expressed surprise and disappointment at the direction the Report had taken. “At the time I left”, she said ‘we were working towards a recommendation that decriminalized sex work and directed attention to how the law might contribute further to eliminating any harm that might accompany this work, whether forms of violence and abuse, rights violation or labour exploitation’.

The Department of Justice was handed the report as far back as 2014 and while sex workers have been abused, arrested, fined and refused help, and many have lost their lives, the Department of Justice stood still and did nothing.

SWEAT saw a copy of the report in late 2014 and at this time it recommended full criminalization with the option of diversion. It has been clear that this recommendation left government in a fix -because criminalization is a dismal failure and has been a failure for the past 58 years.

For us, it was a no-brainer, move on and propose legislation in favour of decriminalising sex work.  But instead they did nothing.

While the Department of Justice did nothing, criminalisation of both buying and selling sex had resulted in an increase in HIV among sex workers, increased harm and has enabled abuse and corruption by police. Just last week the Deputy President said the country must get behind a National Sex Work Plan which recommends decriminasation of sex work.

We can only conclude that the timing of the release is a smoke screen or PR stunt on the part of the Department of Justice who are scrambling to defend themselves in light of the reports of increased intimate femicide and violence against women.

“The SALRC report brings us no further than we were 20 years ago when Project 107 began – prolonging a process that has cost not only the tax-payer millions, but also cost sex workers their lives” said Thuli Khoza the leader of the Sex Work Sector. “It’s time for action – women won’t wait.”

We call on government, listen to the evidence, listen to sex workers, listen to civil society organisations, listen to public health institutions and decriminalize sex work now.

For media comments contact:

Sally Shackleton – 082 330 4113

Ishtar Lakhani – 079 437 1217

Nosipho Vidima – 076 782 0812

Kholi Buthelezi – 073 247 9623

Lesego Tlhwale – 081 356 3165

Katlego Rasebitse – 063 449 4306



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