Nearly 2,000 sex trade survivors, women’s and human rights advocates, anti-trafficking organizations, frontline service providers, and concerned individuals from over 60 countries signed an open letter urging the South African government to reject the Bill proposed by the Minister and Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola and John Jeffery, respectively.
The Bill repeals all criminal offences related to prostitution, effectively decriminalizing the sex trade (the “Jeffery Bill”).
Along with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), the signatories include CAP International, Equality Now, the European Network of Migrant Women, the Sisterhood is Global Institute, SPACE International, the Survivor Empowerment & Support Programme (SESPE), and World Without Exploitation. American author and feminist activist Gloria Steinem is also among the signatories.
The letter outlines the grounds for opposing the Jeffery Bill, citing the devastating harms a decriminalized sex trade would unleash in South Africa. An estimated 131,000 and 182,000 people are currently in prostitution in South Africa, almost all disenfranchised Black women and girls. If the Jeffery Bill passes, that number will exponentially increase.
“This Bill does not address the violence, terror, trauma, or even death that we suffer at the hands of sex buyers, pimps, or because of the system of prostitution itself,” said Mickey Meji, of SESPE, based in Cape Town. “In fact, the Jeffery Bill would condemn generations of poor and vulnerable Black women and girls to the sex trade with the blessing of my government.”
The Jeffery Bill would allow prostitution to occur in any “dwelling-house, building, room, out-house, shed, tent, place, field, enclosure, space, vehicle, boat…or any part thereof…”. Concurrently, the Jeffery Bill’s elimination of penalties for sex buyers and commercial sex establishments will dramatically grow the sex trade, increasing the demand for purchased sexual acts, which leads to sex trafficking. South Africa would also become a global destination for sex tourism.
“The South African government would in effect authorize and profit from the sexual exploitation of women, girls, and marginalized groups in violation of its Constitution and commitments under international law,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, CATW’s executive director. “The Jeffery Bill is a gift to sex traffickers and brothel owners.”
The signatories of this open letter call on South Africa to adopt a law known as the Abolitionist or Equality Model, a legal framework that solely decriminalizes those bought and sold for sexual acts, while still holding sex buyers and exploiters accountable for the grievous harm they perpetrate. The Equality Model also mandates that the government provide prostituted persons comprehensive medical services, educational opportunities, and exit strategies.
South Africa has pledged to combat and eradicate abuse and violence against women and children, end gender-based discrimination, prevent sex trafficking, and suppress the exploitation of prostitution, especially of women and children. Progressive legislation such as the Equality Model promotes the human rights all South Africans are entitled to enjoy.