In the early 1990’s SWEAT was founded by Shane Petzer, a male sex worker and Ilse Pauw, a Clinical Psychologist. Together they sought to establish a safe sex education project for adult sex workers capturing the excitement and hope that went with the transition from apartheid to democracy and a constitution respecting human rights.

ASET [AIDS Support, Education and Training] was established as a non- governmental service organisation focusing on safer sex educational work with adult sex workers. With the expansion of work SWEAT became independent in 1996, and registered as a non-profit organisation.

Outreach work to sex workers working on the streets and within agencies extended beyond safer sex education to include:

• crisis counseling
• legal advice
• skills training for sex workers

This was facilitated by the appointment of fieldworkers. During this time a firm internal infrastructure was established to maintain and enable further development of the organization.

Advocating for the decriminalization of adult sex work and an advocacy programme was established in 2000 by SWEAT. Since 2002, SWEAT has been reaching sex workers nationally to engage in issues related to health and legal reform. SWEAT was activity involved in the Jordan Case, partnering with the Women’s Legal Centre. The judgment was handed down in 2002 (Read more)


In 2001 SWEAT redesigned its logo.

SWEATScene was launched – a newsletter for sex workers, covering service provision, advice and advocacy.

In 2003 SWEAT supported the launch of Sisonke, a sex worker movement and also saw the launch of the research programme which was initiated in order to gather credible information on sex work and the sex work industry.The meeting which established Sisonke [meaning togetherness] took place 15-17 November 2003 in Worcester.

Sizzlers Massacre took place, SWEAT provided trauma support  to survivors,  friends and family

Work with Sisonke was followed by the setting up a national leadership training programme.

SWEAT begins the process of group litigation against the police, responding to arrests in the Cape Town area. This results in an interdict against the South African Police in 2009.

A Regional Sisonke structure is developed in Cape Town, working alongside the Reproductive Health And Research Unit, RHRU.

SWEAT has adopted a more developmental approach. This has involved shifting emphasis onto community development.

A regional Sisonke structure is developed in Johannesburg, supported by the Reproductive Health and Research Unit, RHRU.

A sex worker, Sisonke representative, was recruited to the board and sex workers were employed as staff.

SWEAT supported the development of Sisonke rural formations in Beaufort West, Rustenburg, Carltonville and Motherwell/Port Elizabeth.

Life skill retreats and one-to-one life skill support sessions were also initiated in partnership with PPASA as a ‘next step’ approach.

The development of the peer education program enabled sex workers to be active agents as opposed to passive subjects to be acted upon. Partners in Sexual Health (PSH) assist with the training of peer educators.

SWEAT collaborated with the Institute for Security Studies on a book “Selling Sex in Cape Town”

The use of creative arts – drama, dance and arts – became central to the work SWEAT does, functioning as a bridge and transitional space that enables further engagement like the life skills program.

SWEAT joined the Counter Trafficking Coalition and began to work more closely with PSH around work with truckers.

3-5 Feb First African Sex Work Conference took place, which established the African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA) ASWA continued to be hosted by SWEAT until 2015. This meeting also launched the “every sex worker is a human rights defender”.

The first ever African sex worker conference is initiated and co-hosted by SWEAT.

An African sex worker alliance is established. The conference saw 12 sex workers from different African countries ‘come out’, and read press statements in which they demanded Rights Not Rescue and that sex work is seen as work.

SWEAT won an interdict in the High Court in Cape Town which prohibits the arrest of sex workers for an ulterior purpose. As part of this process a group of sex workers publically petitioned outside the high court, an action that has not occurred before. This is a ground breaking case and ultimately, after a number of years, it is now hoped that sex workers will have increased access to criminal and civil remedies for abuse.

Sex workers petition around police harassment. Special programs of action are initiated to engage with harder to reach sex workers, like foreign and male sex workers, aswell as the piloting of debriefing sessions inside brothels.

An interactive communications web site centre is piloted, enabling sex workers to comment and respond as journalists. This initiative forms part of a broader drive to create a South African and African human rights defence program of action in which sex workers will be equipped with skills to expose human rights violations.

Partnerships are developed with RHRU, POWA, Women’s Legal Centre and Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre. It is confirmed in a service user satisfaction survey that SWEAT has credibility amongst its service users.


A Regional Sisonke structure is developed in Cape Town, working alongside the Reproductive Health And Research Unit, RHRU.

SWEAT has adopted a more developmental approach. This has involved shifting emphasis onto community development.


Small group programs, including substance abuse, fathers’ group. Migrant group, HIV negative group, HIV and ARV compliance group, and spirituality were initiated and continue to run – this included a focused group for transgender female sex workers – this group was initially conceived and facilitated by Robert Hamblin, and then Dr Wasserman ran sessions on self-esteem and sexuality.

Developing a partnership with TB/HIV Care, and full time employment of 16 peer educators, and mobile units to render health and human rights services to sex workers who are street and brothel based.


The Red Umbrella Programme funded by Global Fund started.

SWEAT hosted an interactive game called “In Her Heels” at Artscape Theater Centre on the 9 August 2013. We had over 45 members of the public participating after which we recorded their experience of walking in sex workers shoes.


SWEAT open four provincial offices in Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Eastern Cape