Sonke Gender Justice calls for prioritisation of the safety of sex workers

Sonke Gender Justice is deeply saddened and outraged at the killings of six sex workers last weekend in central Johannesburg. 

The six decomposing bodies were discovered inside a panel beater’s shop by a security guard, after he noticed a strange smell coming from the building. 

The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, made a commitment in March 2019 to decriminalize sex work and to the safeguarding of sex workers human rights at the signing of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Declaration. Two years later, sex work is still illegal, and sex workers are still unsafe.  

The decriminalisation of sex work is pivotal to the safety of workers. 

According to the Female and Transwomxn Sex Worker Deaths in South Africa report published in 2020, 101 sex workers died in the year 2018 and 2019, and 45% of them were murdered. 

The government has failed to keep its promise. We are seeing an incline of these brutal and senseless killings. 

Jayne Arnott, Sex Worker Rights’ Specialist from Sonke Gender Justice explains that the above report continues the important work of the #SayHerName Campaign, to surface information around the deaths of sex workers that far too often go unnoticed. 

The Campaign was launched in 2016 to commemorate and honour female and transwomxn sex workers whose lives had been lost as a result of violence. This report findings point to often brutal  and high levels of violence forms of violence  levelled against female and transwomxn sex workers in South Africa.

This month we are grieving over the brutal killing of six more sex workers, we cannot continue to wait for change that can bring about much needed protections and safer working conditions.

We are calling on the President and the government to urgently fulfill their promise of decriminalising sex work. Sex workers need safer working conditions and better access to protections and  public services.

The decriminalisation of all aspects of the sex work industry will greatly improve working conditions for sex workers and ensure that they are afforded better protections as well as access to health and security services. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is currently engaged in developing a Decrim Bill and we urge the Deputy Minister, John Jeffery, to do all in his power to speed this process up.