All aspects of sex work are currently a crime in South Africa. The decriminalization of sex work negatively impacts of sex workers by making them vulnerable to violence and making it difficult to access health and justice services whilst denying sex workers labour rights that all other employees are entitled to under labor law.
The South African government has initiated the South African Law Reform Commission to investigate, research and make recommendations on whether the law on sex work should be changed, and if so, how. Decriminalization of sex work means that the buying and selling of sex will no longer be a crime. It will bring sex work within a human rights framework, where occupational health and safety laws as well as South Africa’s protective labor framework will apply. Sex workers will also be more able and willing to claim their human rights to equality, privacy and freedom from violence under decriminalization.
The Way Forward
The decriminalization of sex work is the model of law reform that respects human rights and is based on public health evidence. Following international evidence and best practice, decriminalization will have the following effects on sex workers and South African society: Reduce the levels of gender based violence; Reduce the prevalence of HIV and other STIs; Create safer places for sex workers to work; Create safer societies; and Respect sex worker agency and choice of occupation.