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ID: 1426

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Practice

Topics: Sex Work and Harm Reduction

Presenting author: Dudzile Dlamini

Presenting author biography:

I am an activist, a mother, a teacher, a healer, a mentor, and a sex worker in South Africa.

SWEAT’s ‘Self Defense Guide’ for the Protection and Survival of Sex Workers in South Africa

Dudzile Dlamini

South Africa’s sex work industry exists in a system of criminalisation – rather, a system of exploitation and abuse towards sex workers. The standing legal model forces out already mariginilised peoples from accessing basic rights; sex workers face harsh stigma from a variety of agents, including the health, legal, and educational sectors. Sex worker’ safety is not at risk because of the nature of the job, but rather the nature of the laws.

A 2013 study on sex worker population size in South Africa offers an intermediate estimation of 153,000 peoples. Those numbers have since increased and continue to grow daily.

As a response to the challenges faced by operating within a criminalised state, SWEAT has created a “Self Defence Guide” to enable South African sex workers to navigate their work safely and comfortably. Our guide addresses a variety of situations encountered on and off the job. Compiled solely from the voices and narratives of diverse and experienced sex workers, the guide is an interactive booklet meant to serve as a learning tool and survival guide for those entering the industry. One focus is the interaction between drug use and sex work; drugs and alcohol are employed as coping mechanisms for many performing within a criminalised state. From the conversations that formed the Self Defense Guide, we understand that drug use and harm can be reduced if sex work were decriminalised.

Since the inception of our Self Defense Guide, our outreach has accessed 5,000 sex workers working throughout South Africa. We are also commencing a program in which trained sex workers will hold workshops that educate newer sex workers from the Self Defense Guide. Our biggest barrier thus far has been making the guide accessible in a variety of languages, but all future funding is being put towards those efforts.