Sex Work and Substance Abuse in South Africa: Law Enforcement v. Harm Reduction?


Victoria Aderonke Balogun-Fatokun; Ayodeji Fatokun, BSc & Nkosinathi Mzolo | September 21 | 4:00-5:00 PM

Topic: Legal, International | Knowledge Level: Beginner, Intermediate

The intersection between sex work and substance abuse is contestable but common in South Africa. Both activities are legally frowned upon and punishable directly or indirectly. According to the WHO, South Africa has an estimated 150,000 sex workers and over 263,000 people are on drugs. Although the two categories of people may differ generally, their activities may overlap at a stage which may result in an overlay. The issue of whether prostitution is sex work, and whether all sex workers are drug users remains a mystery that necessitates a research- debate. Further, the misconception and demeaning disregard for sex workers and/or drug users have over the years fueled the violence utilized against the vulnerable group of people. This is further exacerbated by exclusive laws that continues to criminalize sex work activities regardless of their lifestyles. Should we really be consumed by punishment and reprisals, or do we need to be more vigilant and moved by the plights of vulnerable groups of people as a democratic nation founded on Ubuntu? This presentation is based on literature and the presenters’ interactions with the vulnerable groups concerned. This presentation aims to argue that most harm which sex workers are subjected to, though related to substance abuse, are more profound given that negative perception of lawmakers and community members. Factors such as discrimination, stigmatization, marginalization, being treated as criminals rather than addressing the ills of exclusion, eliminating criminal activities, and stereotypes surrounding sex work and drug use in South Africa creates more problems in our communities. The presenters recommend that a holistic approach should be adopted by the state to deal with the problem by reducing the potential harms caused to sex workers and/or drug users as their needs may differ rather than focusing squarely or retribution.

Presentation Objectives:

·  Encourage a meaningful discussion on the issue of sex work and substance abuse.

·  Explore the idea that sex workers using drugs and other drug users are human beings with feelings and human rights, including the right to dignity, life, and health.

·  Discuss the intersections between public ill health and neglect for sex workers using drugs problems.

·  Outline laws governing sex work and substance abuse and suggest a possible reform that may be necessary for ameliorating the plight of sex workers and or drug use.

·  Explore advocacy for humane and dignifying rehabilitation mechanisms in both the public and private sectors for sex works and drug users.

About the Presenters