South African sex workers call for decriminalization during World Cup

As South Africa gears up for the 2010 World Cup, the country’s sex workers are starting a campaign to have prostitution decriminalized.

The drive is being spearheaded by the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), an organization that strives to protect the health and human rights of sex workers. SWEAT’s website documents numerous cases of harassment by police and the public. SWEAT fears that this harassment will only increase during the World Cup. The organization wants to have sex work permanently decriminalized, or at the very least for the duration of the World Cup.

The globe’s biggest football (soccer) event is expected to draw 450,000 visitors, some of whom will want to pay for sex. This has raised the concern not only of sex workers, but health workers as well. With South Africa being the source of an estimated 17 percent of global HIV infections, the potential for a major spread of HIV is very real. The South Africa National AIDS Council has stated that if prostitution were legal then it would be easier for the sex worker to demand safe sex. It would also make it easier for sex workers to get abusive clients arrested.

At the moment the government is not considering a change of policy. South Africa, despite its large sex trade, is socially conservative and there is resistance to even talking about these issues. And if even free-loving Amsterdam is clamping down on its red light district, sex workers in South Africa have a long fight ahead of them.