South Africa Considers Legalizing Prostitution
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
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MARTIN: And now it's time for our weekly visit with one of our Anchor Buddies -those reporters and commentators who help us explore what's happening around the world. Today, South Africa. It's said to be one of South Africa's proudest accomplishments post-apartheid.
The country has been selected to host the World Cup Soccer Tournament in 2010. And in advance of that, South Africa's national police commissioner made an unusual proposal. As a way to keep the peace and preserve law enforcement resources, he suggested legalizing prostitution, at least during the month-long event itself.
The Daily News newspaper in Durban looked into the idea in a series of articles last month. We actually got three Anchor Buddies this week. Vivian Attwood and Troy Martens co-authored the newspaper series. They join us now, along with Debbie Toughey, who's with the group Doctors for Life. Ms. Toughey is a former prostitute herself, and she now advocates on behalf of sex workers in South Africa.
Welcome to all of you.
Ms. DEBBIE TOUGHEY (Spokesperson, Doctors for Life): Thank you very much for having me.
Ms. VIVIAN ATTWOOD (Co-Author, Durban Daily News): Thank you. Thank you.
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MARTIN: And first, if Ms. Attwood, the first I wanted to ask, was the commissioner's proposal serious?
Ms. ATTWOOD: He was deadly serious, and feathers were certainly ruffled.
MARTIN: Was the purpose to say that the resources spend in policing this activity could be better spent elsewhere? Is that the gist of it?
Ms. ATTWOOD: That seemed to be part of it, and I think they were following Germany. There's been divided opinion about whether or not it was advisable to legalize as they did.
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Troy Martens, you wanted to say something?
Ms. TROY MARTENS (Correspondent, Durban Daily News): The South African Law Reform Commission is actually looking into where prostitution stands. They're busy doing research at the moment into the legalization or decriminalization or further criminalization of prostitution at the moment. So I think that means that they are taking, you know, the suggestion seriously.
MARTIN: Debbie, talk to me about this - how did you react when you first heard this proposal? What do you think?
Ms. TOUGHEY: My first reaction was that it was only going to benefit the pimps, the organized crime syndicates, really. and, you know, it's going to increase human trafficking. And yeah, I was quite shocked.
MARTIN: Debbie, if you would tell us your story. How did you become involved in the life?
Ms. TOUGHEY: Like most people, you know, (unintelligible) good, having a small child, you know, having to make ends meet. And I was offered assistance. He seemed to be a businessman, and he offered me work. And I think that, you know, that is how I got involved, not realizing that it's actually changes your whole life.
MARTIN: When you say he offered you work, do you mean that he offered to sponsor you as a prostitute? Are you saying that he - you thought he was…
Ms. TOUGHEY: No, no. He…
MARTIN: You thought that you were his mistress or his partner or something.
Ms. TOUGHEY: Yeah, no. He offered me a work as a prostitute in his agency, and where I worked and then eventually when I decided I don't want to do that work anymore, he wasn't prepared to let me go. So I was running his brothel for him. And yeah, that it was over a period of 11 years. And you know what happens is that women go into this business thinking that they can do this to make ends meet, but the people that they're dealing are in this business to make money.
MARTIN: You said you had a child. Were you able to keep him with you?
Ms. TOUGHEY: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
MARTIN: Or were you able to raise him?
Ms. TOUGHEY: Yeah, he was raised in that environment. He didn't know anything other than prostitution, drugs, organized crime.
MARTIN: Vivian or Troy, I wanted to ask you…
Ms. ATTWOOD: Yes.
MARTIN: …what has been the reaction to this proposal to legalize prostitution?
Ms. MARTENS: The reaction, for the first time, you know, we had the prostitutes actually speaking up for themselves, their opinions getting aired, and most people have been surprised that the prostitutes themselves are actually not pro-legalization. They actually…
MARTIN: And why not? Is it mainly the same reason as Debbie cited? That they feel that it actually - because one could make an argument that legalization or decriminalization would allow sex workers to organize, possibly. They might be able to figure that sort of thing.
Ms. MARTENS: And I think that's the perception that most…
MARTIN: Get better help.
Ms. ATTWOOD: …members of the public have, that it would offer the women protection. It would offer them health care. It would offer them legal benefits, but those are actually spurious when you go and talk to the woman themselves and find out what their lives are like and what they anticipate that would be like if it were legalized.
Ms. TOUGHEY: And yeah, if I might say something here. Legalization doesn't solve the nature of the work…
MARTIN: The work.
Ms. TOUGHEY: …if you want to call it that. It doesn't change anything. The nature of the business itself is violent. The nature of the business itself is dehumanizing and degrading. No person should be subject to doing that for money, you know, to make a living. The nature of the business is such that, you know, if you're going for a swim, you're going to get wet. If you're going to be a prostitute, you are going to be damaged.
MARTIN: How did you finally get helped?
Ms. TOUGHEY: Well, the man that kept me captive for 11 years, he got shot. And suddenly, we were free to go - myself and my son.
MARTIN: Vivian or Troy, given the prevalence of HIV/AIDS throughout Africa -I'm surprised that this issue was not addressed - would the commissioner not be concerned that legalizing prostitution - even for a short period of time -would lead to increased transmission.
Ms. MARTENS: Quite so. It would be sending a lot of our visitors home with the virus.
Ms. ATTWOOD: Yeah, in fact, recent developments - I don't know if I should talk about them - but Jackie Selebi, there was a warrant out for his arrest. Yeah.
MARTIN: So there was a feeling that perhaps…
Ms. TOUGHEY: Yeah.
MARTIN: …oh, I see, that there are some other issue at work here?
Ms. TOUGHEY: So it's definitely financial gain in the whole prostitution and human trafficking area for certain people, for certain organizations, you know?
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. But there has not been an adequate discussion of how the virus would be contained through this scenario…
Ms. ATTWOOD: No, none at all.
MARTIN: …or how this would work to contain the virus.
Ms. TOUGHEY: But you all know how controversial our own health minister is on this issue - our own president.
MARTIN: I see.
Ms. TOUGHEY: It's very difficult to get policies in place when…
MARTIN: There is not, there is not…
Ms. TOUGHEY: The top of the pile…
MARTIN: …consensus about…
Ms. TOUGHEY: No.
MARTIN: …the disease and how it…
Ms. TOUGHEY: Correct, correct.
MARTIN: I see. I see. What next? What happens now, this proposal to legalize prostitution during World Cup? Is it actively being discussed? Is there some legislative body that needs to consider it? What is the status?
Ms. MARTENS: Well, I know that the South African Law Reform Commission are currently reviewing the legislation. But at the moment, that process is still at the research stages, and they haven't made any proposals from their research as of yet, as far as I'm aware.
But in terms of government leaders and that sort of thing, talking about it, it's very pretty much, I think, been silence for the time being because of the controversy and the reactions that came about when Jackie Selebi first suggested it.
MARTIN: All right. Well, if you would keep us up to date, we'd be very much appreciative.
Ms. MARTENS: Definitely. No problem.
MARTIN: Troy Martens and Vivian Attwood are reporters with the Durban Daily News and co-authors of a series of articles on legalizing prostitution in South Africa. Debbie Toughey is with the non-profit Doctors for Life. Thank you all so much for speaking with us.
Ms. TOUGHEY: You're welcome. Thank you.
Ms. ATTWOOD: Thank you, Michel.
Ms. MARTENS: Thank you very much.
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