SWEAT Statement on Research Seminar: Prostitution in South Africa: developing a research agenda

13 April 2010

The Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sisonke Sex
Worker Movement note with regret the press release circulated on the
Health Systems Trust “60%” mailing list on 12 April 2010.

SWEAT, Sisonke and sex work researchers are concerned about a number of
aspects of the research seminar entitled “Prostitution in South Africa:
developing a research agenda” organised under the auspices of the Medical
Research Council (MRC), the Embrace Dignity Campaign and the Coalition
Against Trafficking in Women.

We highlight a few concerns here:

1. The press release notes that the research presented will
“assist the law-makers on deciding which legal model is most suitable for
South Africa.” Yet, the seminar agenda only includes presentation slots
for discussion of the “Swedish model” (partial criminalisation) of sex
work and does not allow for research findings on the other legal models in
existence. This portrays a clear ideological and political bias;

2. Melissa Farley, a highly controversial anti-sex work activist
and researcher from the USA, has been invited to present. She has been
given a platform for a disproportionate amount of time in relation to
South African researchers and organisations;

3. No sex workers have been invited to seminar. It is offensive
that the seminar organisers are claiming to “develop a research agenda” on
sex work, without consulting sex workers or asking them for input;

4.

5. Despite engagement on the pejorative meaning of the term, the
seminar organisers insist on the use of “prostitution” in the seminar’s
title, agenda and its documentation. “Sex work” is the term employed in
international literature, by international bodies such as the United
Nations and the World Health Organization, South African policy documents
– and most importantly – sex workers themselves. In terms of South
Africa’s history and context, “prostitution” is the equivalent of rejected
terms such as “bantu”, “native” and “non-white” to describe the black
members of South Africa’s population.

6. The press release dangerously conflates sex work and
trafficking, despite an established academic literature that warns against
such simplicity and which undermines sex workers’ agency.

Whilst we are disappointed with the way the planned research conference is
unfolding we note that the MRC has distanced itself from the press release
and would like to commend this gesture. Moreover, SWEAT entered into this
dialogue in good faith. We very carefully tailored our presentation to
adhere to the criteria and guidelines of which it was stated that the
presentation must not to advance a political agenda, while acknowledging
that all research is inherently political. One reading of what is
unfolding is that it is a predetermined and biased discussion. We feel
that a seminar holds great potential in establishing a sound research
agenda and looking at the current gaps that exists on sex work in South
Africa. We would like to urge all the organisers of the seminar to take
action on the issues we have highlighted above and to ensure that no
specific political or ideological agenda is pursued in its deliberations.

9 April 2010

PRESS RELEASE:

Researchers gather to discuss findings on prostitution and legal models

The expected rise in sex trafficking in the run-up to the 2010 FIFA Soccer
World Cup makes it a national priority to carefully consider the issue of
adult prostitution.

South Africa is yet to pass a law on adult prostitution that fits our
constitutional values of dignity, equality and freedom. The South African
Law Reform Commission has published a discussion document with four
possible models to regulate prostitution.

On 14-15 April, the Embrace Dignity Campaign, the Coalition Against
Trafficking in Women and the Medical Research Council will host a workshop
in Pretoria with international experts. Research will be presented which
should assist the law-makers on deciding which legal model is most
suitable for South Africa.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who heads up the Embrace Dignity Campaign,
explains that “the link between sex trafficking and prostitution is the
sexual exploitation of women. We are talking about the lives of women. We
have to devise a legal model to best protect women”.

The experts who are available for media interviews are:

Ø Dr Melissa Farley from the USA will present on ‘Prostitution in South
Africa: Racialised Colonisation of Women’. Dr Farley is an expert on
prostitution and sex trafficking and has conducted extensive research on
the subject, which has formed the basis of books and articles.

Ø Max Waltman from Sweden will present a paper on the ‘Swedish Model’
which decriminalises prostituted people while criminalising people who
purchase sex and third party profiteers. Mr. Waltman is conducting
research in policy approaches against men’s violence against women,
particularly pornography and prostitution.

For interviews and information, phone Jeremy Routledge on 072 969 2581

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