STREET BUSINESS: Prostitutes openly ply their trade in Schoeman Street,
Pretoria. PHOTO: MUNTU VILAKAZI
‘The regular cops come on Friday nights and demand money or sex from us’
‘These women often fail to back up their claims’H62
The lives of prostitutes are fraught with the danger of being raped and they are often threatened with firearms and knives. This is compounded by claims of violence and abuse at the hands of the police. These are some of the research findings of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat).The group’s researcher, Nicole Fick, said prostitutes are in no position to insist that their clients should use condoms, which puts them at risk of HIV-Aids.
She said the fact that prostitution has been criminalised exposes the women to danger because of lack of legal protection.“The problem is compounded by police abusing them,” Fick said.“The fact that many prostitutes hide what they do provides leverage for those who want to exploit them. This lack of disclosure of their work could have a negative impact on the quality of protection they receive.”
There is an increase in prostitutes being raped, assaulted, arrested without being charged, and pepper-sprayed by the police, Sweat said. A 2004 study by Sweat showed that one in three of the women who made statements to the organisation told of being forced to have sex with police officers or of their knowledge of other prostitutes who had been forced to have sex. The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) said it is investigating about 24 cases of rape against police officers.
Nationally, police rape statistics stood at 52617, with Gauteng leading at 11114 in the 2006/2007 financial year. The figure is inclusive of all reported rape cases. ICD spokesman Dikeledi Phiri confirmed that rape cases against SAPS members were opened during the same period. However, she said: “It is difficult to say how many rape cases we have received so far this year because we only investigate the failure to assist by members of the police. I am looking at the nature of all these cases, convictions, and how many are still under investigation.“
If the investigation reveals improper performance of duties or failure to assist complainants by an officer, steps are taken against the member and the case will receive the necessary attention and be investigated, either by police or the ICD.”
But Sweat and the prostitutes say many of the cases of rape and abuse they open against the police disappear into thin air. Thokozile Ntuli* is one of the prostitutes who works around Johannesburg and complained about being repeatedly raped and abused by the police. She said the police pick them up from their hotel rooms, flats, malls, and in the streets where they work, only to lock them up and abuse them. She said: “There is one policeman who comes to my flat and rapes me repeatedly. “The police mostly come on Friday nights and demand money or sex from us. “They come in their vans and private cars. They know where we live and come to demand that we sleep with them.”
Another prostitute, Palesa Mooki*, said the police often collect them where they work, put them in the cells and demand money and sex in exchange for their release. “They pick us up from Hillbrow, Sandton and Rosebank . Most of these police who come to abuse us are regulars and we know them. The problem is whenever we report our cases the police simply do nothing about them.”
Sowetan spoke to five prostitutes in the inner city of Johannesburg.They all complained about police going to the streets where they worked, especially on Friday and weekend nights, stealing their money, threatening, arresting and demanding sex from them.
Gauteng police spokesman Eugene Opperman said the prostitutes who accused police of abuse and rape were preventing the police from doing their work.
“Most of these prostitutes who accuse the police of rape often fail to back up their claims with medical evidence. We are saying that if they feel the police are failing them, they must go to the station commander, the ICD and even to the national police office to complain,” he said.
* Not their real names.
Policeman cleared of assault charges 23 May 2008Nkosana Lekotjolo
Last year a Sunnyside, Pretoria, policeman accused of brutally assaulting a prostitute walked free. The policeman allegedly assaulted the prostitute and smashed her head against the police van until she lost consciousness. This was reportedly after the victim refused to get into the van.The Gauteng commander of the police’s organised crime unit, Simon Mapeyane, said yesterday the ICD found the policeman not guilty.