Sex work: Should it be legal?

It was 2 am on a Saturday night the first time Asanda had sex for money. The rain was falling fast; bullets from a machine gun. She remembers it – the puddles, the cold outside, and cold in her bones.

It all started when Asanda was staying at her cousin’s house. Her Mom, drunk, had kicked Asanda out: “You’re sixteen now, girl. Go look after yourself. I can’t pay for you. Find a job!”

Mom was pregnant again. She had no money for any of them.

Sizwe wasn’t the nicest, but Asanda didn’t know who else to ask. She sent Sizwe a message: “Please help. I don’t know what else to do.” Sizwe said she could stay, but she had to contribute.

“We’re going to work tonight. You must join. Nothing comes for free.”

Asanda agreed. Later that evening they put on make up and went to meet people at the bar. They drank beer. They smoked cigarettes and laughed when the men made rude jokes. After Asanda’s fourth glass she began to feel a mixture of euphoria and dizziness. She felt grown-up and sophisticated with Sizwe’s friends.

Soon, the women left the bar and made their way down the street to a petrol station. Sizwe saw a car approach them. She pushed Asanda forward, “Go, go. It’s your turn. Tell them R200.” Asanda looked around nervously. “Go!” Sizwe pushed her harder. Asanda noticed a few other women were milling around the station too. They were wearing short skirts and occasionally they would lean over and talk to someone in a car. The man beckoned her, and Asanda slowly approached his car.

Asanda’s situation is a common story for many women working as prostitutes. Many sex workers have felt trapped by this career because of social or economic circumstances. Often, they are victims of trafficking, or manipulated by pimps and drug lords.

In light of the growing number of women trafficked, the South African government is considering amendments to the constitution to allow for the legalisation of prostitution. If these changes are to pass, South Africa will be the first country in Africa to legalise sex work.

Many people support this change. The supporters argue that the legalisation of sex work will allow for regulations to protect the sex worker. At present, a sex worker can not call the police for fear of being arrested. With added regulation, pimps and drug lords who often profit at the mercy of those working for them, will have limited power. In addition, a liberal viewpoint insists women have a human right to sell sex if they wish.

However, the decriminalisation of sex work comes with many critics. Rachel Mora­n, founder of Space International and the author of the memoir Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, disagrees with this view: “I cringe when I hear the words ‘sex work.’ Selling my body wasn’t a livelihood. There was no resemblance to ordinary employment in the ritual degradation of strangers’ using my body to satiate their urges. I was doubly exploited — by those who pimped me and those who bought me.”

To me, it is impossible for anyone to have sex for money without any shame, doubt, or regret. Sex is not simply a physical act; it is deeply invasive and affecting for a person’s sense of self. Unfortunately, many men who hire prostitutes seek not just the physical act but the power over another human being. This leads to objectification, violence and dehumanisation of the person. This goes directly against what we believe in as a society.

As a society and as individuals we should stand against objectification of women and abuse. I don’t know what the right solution is regarding the legalisation of sex work. I do know God loves Asanda, he loves you, and he loves me. In the Bible Jesus gives forgiveness and a new hope to everyone, saying: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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