Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation

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Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation

Prostitution in South Africa is illegal for both buying and selling sex, as well as related activities such as brothel keeping and pimping (Section 20(1)(aA) and section 11 of the Sexual Offences Act). Accurate estimates on the number of people enslaved today are nearly impossible because of the hidden nature of the crime. Some estimate the global number to be near 40 million[1], while 20.9 million people are estimated to be in sexual slavery alone[2]. However, it remains widespread, partly due to law enforcement that is limited.[3][4] South Africa has become one of the major destinations for underage sex tourism in Africa. Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban has become popular destinations for this. Child prostitution is a problem in the country, too. [5]

Sex work versus human trafficking

Prostitution may be seen on a spectrum with human trafficking. The relationship is complicated: but no matter the situation, a women’s body is exploited for the sake of money and usually in desperate circumstances. In South Africa with limited quality of education and few job opportunities, women view sex work as an avenue they can choose, often sending the small amount she receives to her children. Selecting prostitution for income creation often is done with reluctance since no other work opportunity is available. In desperate circumstances, prostitution is a quick way to make money with no training, job interview, CV or education required. A woman may often perceive prostitution as ‘the only way’ to get money they and their families need to live. In cases where women are promised certain jobs, but find themselves in a situation where they are sold for sex against their will, unable to leave or visit family, in debt bondage or with their ID documents confiscated, these are human trafficking cases. Force, fraud, deception or coercion is involved when a sex worker is trafficked. Willing, consenting participants in the sex industry may be involved in the same work as human trafficking victims however their situations are very different. Often times both women will want a different life and a way out of prostitution. Sex work is hardly glamourous: one study of prostituted women in nine countries found that 70-95 percent of the women were physically assaulted and 60-75 percent were raped with 89 percent of the women telling researchers that they urgently wanted to escape prostitution[6]. In one study in Johannesburg, of 764 sex workers tested for HIV, 71.8% were tested as HIV positive.  [7]Prostitution is dangerous, socially demeaning and emotionally draining. Commercial sexual exploitation occurs in numerous different venues across many cultures. Due to the nature of soliciting buyers directly on the street and getting into their car to be taken to an unknown location, victims of street prostitution face unique dangers. In addition to the violence that men and women face at the hands of clients, an individual can incur a long lasting criminal record as they receive police citations for solicitation (or traffickers forcing them to hold guns, drugs or recruit others which can lead to co-conspirator charges), ultimately leading to jail time.

Not all cases are clear cut in differentiating between voluntary sex work and sex trafficking and women may be found in gray areas of the spectrum. For example, a woman who is ‘willingly’ a prostitute may be forced to sleep with more customers than she wants to for the sake of the brothel’s upkeep or because the pimp is controlling the flow of the customers.

Hope Risen’s Vision

Hope Risen’s overall mission is to make our city and our country a more beautiful, safe and hopeful place by ending human trafficking and exploitation one day at a time. This is achieved through helping empower dreams, visions and hope for each survivor’s future with a servant and loving heart.

We meet exploited individuals in the places of their greatest pain, shame and desperation. In that place, we have the opportunity to share with them glimpses of the true freedom that comes from living for a greater purpose. Our goal in all outreach is to see transformation but this must be a co-operative effort. Ultimately, that decision is theirs and theirs alone.




[3] “Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme”. Institute of Development Studies. Retrieved 9 December 2017.

[4] “The Legal Status of Prostitution by Country”. Chats Bin. Retrieved 9 December 2017.

[5] “Executive Summary South Africa” (PDF). ECPAT. Retrieved 10 December 2017.

[6] Prostitution, violence, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Farley.