International Sex Workers’ Rights Day: Announcing a new guide to help media report ethically and responsibly on sex work

This week, the world recognised International Sex Workers’ Rights Day on March 3, 2015. Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) and our partners, the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), the Women’s Legal Centre and Sisonke Sex Workers Movement, are pleased to share with journalists, the media, and the general public ‘Sex Workers and Sex Work in South Africa – A Guide for Journalists and Writers‘.

Sex workers in South Africa are already marginalised, discriminated against, shamed, harassed, abused, brutalised and oppressed by both police and citizens, and this public condemnation is only exacerbated by media who too often add fuel to the fire, sometimes unknowingly, just by their choice of words.

For example, a word like “prostitute”, which is often used to describe sex workers is derogatory and has unnecessary moralistic and negative connotations. The preferred term, as pointed out by the guide, is “sex worker”. It avoids moral judgement and points to the selling and buying of sexual services as work – with implications for labour law and occupational health and safety rights. It is also a globally preferred term used by international institutions, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Agency for HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

Additionally, media often use images of the female body – notably the breast, thigh or buttocks to depict sex work. Sterotypical pictures and words add to the prejudice, myths and stigma that are already attached to sex work and sex workers.

Sex Workers and Sex Work in South Africa – A Guide for Journalists and Writers, aims to equip journalists, writers, media practitioners and others with responsible and ethical tools to use when producing stories and publications or communicating about sex work. The guide contains sections on appropriate terminology, use of images and respectful interviewing techniques, while including sections on how to avoid common pitfalls such as stereotyping and sensationalism. It also contains fact sheets that will offer useful information when reporting on sex work, and the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa.

We hope the media and the public will find this tool useful, and that it will lead to less harmful communication about sex work and sex workers in South Africa.

For more information, contact

  • Marlise Richter, Sonke Policy Development & Advocacy Specialist
    Tel: 021 423 7088 /
  • Czerina Patel, Sonke Communications Manager
    Tel: 021 423 7088 /
  • Lesego Tlhwale, Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) Media Advocacy Officer
    Tel: 021 448 7875 /
  • Pamela Chakuvinga, Sisonke Sex Workers’ Movement Assistant National Co-ordinator
    Tel: 021 448 7875 /
  • Stacey-Leigh Manoek, Attorney at Women’s Legal Centre
    Tel: 021 424 5660 /