Newsweek Op/Ed: Sex Work Should Be Legal – If Only To Protect Women From Police

This excellent op/ed by Liesl Gerntholtz, acting program director at Human Rights Watch, was published Wednesday at Newsweek. It echoes the sentiments of every sex worker I know — police violence is a greater threat than violent clients, and police disinterest in protecting sex workers enables violence against them.

Rofhiwa Mlilo is a 40-year-old single mother who sells sex for a living in a small town in South Africa. Unlike the alternative of picking fruit on local farms, sex work provides her with enough money to support her two children.

Mlilo, whose name I have changed for her protection, would prefer if her job selling sex was protected by law so that she could be sure to make it home safely to her children every night. Instead, she lives in constant danger of being harassed, arrested, or detained by police. The police abuse forces her into the shadows, where sex workers often face violence from male solicitors and less protection against HIV.

South African authorities are compromising the safety and wellbeing of thousands of women like Mlilo by treating sex work as a crime, we and a partner group have found. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Our findings give credence to a growing recognition around the world that decriminalizing sex work is an essential step toward gender equality.

We have researched illegal sex work in China, Tanzania, Cambodia, South Africa, and the United States, where workers are often forced to conduct business in dangerous back streets, parks, and abandoned buildings. Whether interviewing sex workers in wealthy US cities or small South African towns, we consistently find police abuse to be one of criminalization’s main cruelties. Sex workers often face harassment, extortion, and rape, and vulnerability to violence—at the hands of both police officers and men who purport to be customers. Women tell us that because they cannot trust members of law enforcement, they are deterred from reporting attacks by men who pretend to be clients but who abuse, rape, and sometimes even try to kill them.

Read the rest at Newsweek

494210cookie-checkNewsweek Op/Ed: Sex Work Should Be Legal – If Only To Protect Women From Police

Newsweek Op/Ed: Sex Work Should Be Legal – If Only To Protect Women From Police

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