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Sex workers (NR)

Nikki Rixon/Twenty Ten


Associated feature: Barbara's dream (Multimedia feature) and Football et prostitution (French text feature)

Location: Cape Town, South Africa

Natasha is one of 4000 street-based sex workers in the Western Cape. Originally from Johannesburg, she lost her mother at a young age and never knew her father. She was forced to grow up quickly and learn to fend for herself. Now, living in a shared flat with her friend Toni, she spends her days hanging out the windows smoking cigarettes or grocery shopping with friends, and her nights in the pub trying to pick up clients.

Natasha has been working as a prostitute in Cape Town for four years and, in that time, has suffered abuse and harassment from the police force. Her belief is that the decriminalisation of prostitution would ensure the protection of sex workers, both verbally and physically, and allow them access to much needed health care.

These young women join the current debate over whether to decriminalise prostitution in the run up to the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.
The police force’s relationship with the sex work industry can in some cases be turbulent; with abusive situations arising due to the fact that sex work is illegal in this country. Some argue that making the sex industry illegal opens the door for police corruption and mistreatment, and increases the vulnerability of sex workers (particularly street-based workers).

Sex workers find that they are not able to approach the police for assistance in cases of abuse during the course of their work. Decriminalization may lessen the amount of abuse the girls are exposed to, both in terms of police interventions and exploitative working conditions. "Rescuing" or "removing" women from their role as a sex worker may not in fact be what they need. Rather, recourse to the law may be more helpful to them.

Furthermore, legalisation of the industry may strengthen the bargaining power of sex workers when negotiating contracts with brothel owners and their negotiating power with clients.

As the debate rages, Natasha continues to earn her daily wage as a prostitute and anticipates increased trade during the World Cup period.

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