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International Sex Worker Rights Day

International Sex Worker Rights Day - 3rd March 2006

The 3rd of March is International Sex Worker Rights Day. The day originated in 2001 when over 25 000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. The organisers wanted to celebrate the lives of sex workers as well as highlight sex workers' determination and strength. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers' Rights Day.

The Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) will celebrate the day with a group of sex workers and recommit ourselves to taking the law reform process forward. We will also be launching a campaign to stop arrests of sex workers under loitering by-laws.

In South Africa, street based sex workers are constantly harassed and arrested under local by-laws. The Sexual Offences Act is the piece of legislation that criminalises sex work, but it is local by-laws that are used to arrest sex workers.

SWEAT recently conducted research with street based sex workers in Cape Town. Sex workers interviewed spoke of high levels of contact with the police and arrests as often as five times per month. One sex worker described the continuous threat of arrests as a major stressor for her and spoke of feeling "hunted" by the police.

SWEAT believes that the police are abusing by-laws to indiscriminately target sex workers. Human rights infringements are taking place during these arrests. SWEAT's research showed that police are verbally and physically abusing sex workers, including police pepper spraying sex workers after arrest when they are already in the back of the police van. SWEAT has also received reports of incidents where police demand sexual services in lieu of not arresting sex workers or pick sex workers up and then drop them off in very remote areas.

"Decriminalisation would go a long way towards stopping the indiscriminate abuse of by-laws to repress sex workers. SWEAT recognises that the police have every right to use by-laws to act in the interests of the public but they do not have the right to indiscriminately use by-laws merely to be seen to be cleaning sex workers off the streets. SWEAT and sex workers will work together to take a campaign to stop arrests forward," said Jayne Arnott, SWEAT Director.

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