The Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work, made up of the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Sisonke, the Women’s Legal Centre, Sonke Gender Justice and partners, who made presentations at the summit, gathered in the city centre on Friday March 2 to commemorate International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
Coalition members congregated in front of the Central Methodist Mission Church, on the corner of Longmarket and Burg streets, whose latest yellow banner, “Jesus was the first to decriminalise sex work” – John 8:7, is causing quite a stir.
Explaining the objective of the yellow banner campaign, Reverend Alan Storey of the church said: “The bell in the church steeple has not sounded since 1897.
Apparently when the 3.5-ton bell rings it shakes the foundations of the nearby buildings. Deemed a safety risk, it was silenced.
The bell is a reminder of what a church is meant to do – to shake the foundations of the surrounding society as it sounds the divine call for justice and mercy for all.
“Seeing as we are not allowed to ring the bell, we decided a few years ago to use the well-positioned steeple in a different way, yet hopefully in a way that still shakes the foundations of our society.
“We decided to hang bright yellow banners from the steeple to call attention to various issues of injustice and suffering. This week is no different. It is crucially important for the church to join the call for the decriminalisation of sex work for a number of reasons.
“The primary reason is that the scriptures are very clear that we are to safeguard the lives of the most vulnerable and stand in solidarity with those that society in general treats as outcasts.
“Now, if we are to protect the vulnerable and stand in solidarity with the outcast, then surely we must also oppose that which contributes to their vulnerability and outcast status.
“The criminalisation of sex work does just this, and more, including violent abuse.
“It also disempowers the sex-worker to demand clients to practice safe sex, thus adding to the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. On a simple level of logic: The criminalisation of sex-work has not eradicated sex work as it intended to do and nor will it ever do so. So why would anyone continue to support a law that cannot ever do what it aims to do, yet in the process of repeatedly trying it causes such terrible harm?”
The coalition said the decriminalisation of sex work would allow sex workers to function within a human rights framework, as it would entail the removal of criminal charges against sex workers, the operation of brothels and individual sex workers as ordinary businesses, the ability to implement laws protecting sex workers from special risks, the minimising of discrimination and stigma around sex work, which will in turn enable sex workers to access basic services more easily and the potential reduction of abuse, together with increased reporting to the police.