Quote of the week

Over the last 150 days we have learned much about the power of the habitual in post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa. We have heard it in the grumbling, cavilling, quarrelling and grousing about the logic (or lack of) of government decrees. We have also seen it in the defiance of logic among the many bourgeois folks who mistook their entitlement for rights, whether to go running, do yoga on the beach, surf, get takeaway coffees, or to purchase items subjected to restricted trade… We saw it in the contradictory messages relayed by official government channels, in the conflict between some experts advising government, between government officials and such experts, and in the ways in which opposition parties contradicted themselves as they opposed government proclamations.

Angelo Fick
Johannesburg Review of Books
7 April 2007

No, I am not in favour of slavery…..

I have been severely reprimanded by Debbie Toughey from Doctors for Life for my comments about sex workers and the need to decriminalise it. In somewhat melodramatic fashion she states that:

[P]rostitutes are kind and generous people, who for the most part have a low self esteem and are being manipulated, coerced and forced to have sex with men they abhor to line the pockets of pimps and to survive another day….. [W]e want to herd them into one area like the German ghetto’s of the 2nd world war and brand them…. How can you be so insensitive to suggest that the cruelty of being sodomised, raped, tortured, abused, insulted and degraded in the worst form is equivalent to being a female in middle management at a big corporation?

I am, of course, not suggesting anything of the sort. Ms Toughey seems to suggest that any sex for monetary reward is equivalent to rape, torture, “sodomy” and other forms of cruelty. This is not very logical, to say the least. It also suggests quite a bizarre and alarmist view of sex and a strange obsession with sodomy.

I have a slightly different view. For one, in South Africa the criminal law prohibits slavery, torture, rape or any other sexual abuse. If some sex workers are subjected to these despicable criminal deeds, the perpetrators must be brought to book. I assume Ms Toughey and members of her organisation have reported all these deeds she seems to be aware of to the police. How one can be seen to protect sex workers by criminalising what they do (but not what their clients do), seems to be beyond my logical capabilities.

One does not need to criminalise sex work to stop such abuse, one must just enforce the law. But, of course, the reality is that many sex workers are not subjected to any of these horrors mentioned above. They do have sex with strangers for money – often because they can earn far more money like this than by cleaning toilets – and I suspect that is what really horrifies Ms Toughey.

The sex workers I have spoken to have different views about their jobs. One woman fondly told me about one of her regular clients who brought her pumpkins and pots of home made jam (made by his wife!) from the farm whenever he came to town for a session. Others spoke with some disgust about the clients they had to work with, but said that the money was good and it was thus worth it. This is not much different from any other job.

I would thus maintain that there is no reason to criminalise this kind of work and not other kinds of work unless one has a very peculiar obsession with sex and believes that sex is inherently dirty and disgusting. This obsession with sex comes to the fore where Ms Toughey writes:

And don’t give me that bull about consensual adult sex! Mr de Vos, have you ever been sodomised?

I must say, I do not want to be disrespectful, but as an openly gay man, I find that question hilarious. In any case, consensual sodomy seems to me not to have anything to do with the issue at hand.

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