Cops accused of abusing sex workers

As KAPAL calls for decriminalization of sex work

LINEO MABEKEBEKE

MASERU – Sex workers in an illegal setting like such as Lesotho’s face a range of problems that are punctuated by increasing solicitation of bribes, assault, rape and rights violation from the police – and they are tired of it. Sex workers are demanding that sex work be legalised to reduce such incidences, which are mostly perpetrated by law enforcers. Key Affected Populations Alliance of Lesotho (KAPAL) says criminalising sex work is reported to be one of the factors that contribute to police brutality and rape, further noting that police officers have mostly been found to be perpetrators of the abuse that goes unreported and unpunished.

The fact that sex work remains illegal and discriminated against means most of the time sex workers are vulnerable to police abuse to avoid arrest. A sex worker who spoke to Public Eye on condition of anonymity said they fail to come forward to report abuse, police brutality and violation of their rights at the hands of the law officers because they fear possible arrests as their trade remains illegal. She said because of this, police officers usually get away with the abuse and violation of sex workers’ rights.

“The same law enforcers take advantage of the illegality of our business. They force us into sexual acts and threaten us with arrest if we do not comply,” she said. The sex worker continued that protecting them from police violence is just one of the numerous reasons sex work should be decriminalised. This would also help them to access health services and reduce the risk of violence against them from clients.

“If Lesotho had not criminalised sex work from the beginning, sex workers could better protect themselves and seek justice when they are abused,” she noted. This abuse, she said, mostly happens to youth trading sex in the streets, where a police officer will want to buy, want to take her to a certain place and when they get there, they harass, rape and even take away all the money sex workers have knowing well that no one will listen to their complaints of harassment.

KAPAL executive director, Lepheana Mosooane, describes sex work as the voluntary buying and selling of sex by two consenting adults, which he said is governed by rules and regulations. Mosooane urged sex workers to come forward to report abuse, criminalisation, police brutality and other acts that violate their rights. “On the other hand, prostitution refers to exchange of sex for goods, services or gifts by anyone with no governing regulations, come forward to report abuse, decriminalisation, police brutality and other acts that violate their rights,” he said.

Some of the crimes under prostitution include sex with underage children, use of drugs, human trafficking and sex slavery. “Therefore,” he added, “prostitution carries stigma and paints a bad picture on sex workers seeking health services, social inclusion, public services, community duties and religious duties,” Mosooane explained. Apart from that, he said decriminalisation means removal of criminal and administrative penalties relating specifically to sex work, pointing out that “decriminalisation should seek to recognise sex work as work governed by labour laws and other related laws.”

Mosooane further said criminalisation of sex work is also a contributing factor to new HIV infection, violates the right to economic development and promotes violence, stigma and discrimination towards sex workers. Quizzed on the decriminalisation of sex work in the streets of Maseru, Leronti Lebofa said the move will allow sex workers to protect their own health. He noted that this is a group of people which sometimes goes without medical care out of fear of arrest or poor treatment by medical staff in health facilities.

“It is not right that the law perceives sex work as different from people doing other jobs, sex workers deserve the same legal protection as other people so that they are able to maintain their livelihoods without fear of violence and arrest, with access to health care to protect themselves,” he said. KAPAL recently hosted a media training session in Maseru for practicing journalists to intensify knowledge on sex work-related issues, identify and apply knowledge to protect the rights of sex workers as well as understanding the basic legal context of sex work.

KAPAL is implementing a six months’ project implemented in Maseru City, aimed at training media personnel on sex workers’ issues, lobbying Members of Parliament to decriminalise sex work and seeking the constitutional court’s intervention in case members of parliament are not interested in decriminalising sex work. KAPAL is a Lesotho organisation advocating for the rights of key populations through advocacy, capacity building and empowerment.

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