Police Abuse of Sex Workers: A Global Reality, Widely Ignored

From RH Reality Check:    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2011/12/15/ending-police-abuse-sex-workers

by Chi Mgbako
December 15, 2011

December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

When we think of violence against sex workers, we conjure up images of dangerous clients and serial killers who target prostitutes.  Indeed, the origins of the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers, observed on December 17, lay in the decades-long serial murder of sex workers by the Green River Killer.  While these are heartbreakingly real forms of violence against sex workers, one area that receives scant public attention despite its entrenched global reality is police abuse of sex workers.

The illegal status of sex work in most countries has not eradicated prostitution.  Instead, criminalization has increased sex workers’ vulnerability to human rights abuses and created fertile ground for police exploitation, especially of street-based sex workers.

For example, in South Africa, where sex work has been illegal since the former apartheid regime criminalized it in 1957, police officers often fine sex workers inordinate sums of money and pocket the cash, resulting in a pattern of economic extortion of sex workers by state agents.  For some sex workers, the cost of a police bribe to evade arrest can equal an entire night’s worth of work.  In other instances, police have exhibited shameless levels of exploitation: In one reported example, a police officer in Cape Town demanded a sex worker give him money in lieu of arrest; when the sex worker told him she possessed only a meager 10 South African rand, or the equivalent of $1.25, the police officer even pocketed that pittance.

In addition to economic abuse, police exploitation of sex workers manifests in other disturbing ways.  South African sex workers report that police confiscate condoms to use as evidence of prostitution; demand sexual favors in exchange for release from jail or to avoid arrest; physically assault and rape sex workers; actively encourage or passively condone inmate sexual abuse of transgender female sex workers assigned to male prison cells; and use municipal laws to harass and arrest sex workers even when they’re engaged in activities unrelated to prostitution.  “When you get arrested,” notes one sex worker, “they put you in the bad cells, with wet blankets, no food, no phone calls allowed. And not everything you had with you – money, cell phones, necklace – gets given back.”  Many sex workers get trapped in a cycle of arrests that only serves to drain state resources and further entrench sex workers’ vulnerability.

Continue reading at:  http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2011/12/15/ending-police-abuse-sex-workers

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