Working for access to quality public healthcare in South Africa since 1998
13 Sep 2016

SWEAT, Sisonke, Women’s Legal Center, TAC, & SECTION27 condemn alleged assault of sex workers

WITBANK, MPUMALANGA – TUESDAY 13th SEPTEMBER 2016: Today members of human rights organisations SWEAT, Sisonke, Women’s Legal Center, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and SECTION27 in Mpumalanga are demonstrating outside Witbank Police station. Together they strongly condemn the assault and the violation of sex workers’ rights perpetrated by the police, as well as the vandalism and damage of personal property of these individuals.  

Police recently raided the private homes of sex workers in Witbank, arresting several of them. During the raids property was damaged and allegedly passports, cellphones, condoms and antiretroviral treatment were destroyed. Since the raids occurred, no charges have been filed in relation to the damage to property, assault or theft. One of the sex workers who wished to remain anonymous said, “we do not know how widespread the issue of abuse or damage to property is. Sex workers in the area are scared to talk given ongoing unwarranted police raids in the area.”

The sex workers currently in detention following the arrests have been denied access to their antiretroviral treatment. This is a gross violation of their Constitutional rights. It has led to treatment interruption or defaulting treatment altogether.

“The medical consequences of people living with HIV defaulting or interrupting treatment can be grave, including drug resistance, decreasing immunity, increased risk of opportunistic infections and transmission of HIV and TB, ultimately leading to more illness and death,” said Belinda Setshogelo from the TAC.  

Sex workers are a marginalised group who continue to be at the epicenter of the HIV epidemic. They continue to face massive unmet need for quality HIV prevention and treatment services. They continue to systematically silenced and attacked because of bigotry, hatred, and health systems that discriminate against them. Sfiso Nkala from SECTION27 added, “rather than attack them, we need to prioritise the elimination of discrimination that fuels the HIV epidemic. We demand human rights for all”.

As a coalition of health and human rights organisations, we are extremely concerned about the gross violations that are being committed by the police. These abuses are frequent and they are escalating. Officers are complicit in terrorising these community members. An official complaint has been lodged with the South African Police Service. Sharon White, Director of Re-Action! said, “a huge consequence of police brutality against sex workers is the additional obstacles in causes them in accessing chronic medication and healthcare services that they need, ultimately affecting care, treatment and adherence”.

The matter will be discussed at the Witbank Police station on Tuesday 13th September. SWEAT, Sisonke, Women Legal Center, and TAC members will demonstrate outside the Police Station from 12:00pm. Spokespeople will be available for interviews during the demonstration. 

For more information, contact:

Nosipho Vidima  (SWEAT) – 0767820812

Belinda Setshogelo (TAC) – 0826224481

Sifiso Nkala (SECTION27) – 0834748449

Teboho Mashota (WLC) – 0782085509