By NKOSINGIPHILE MYENI | 2023-09-18
Some male members of the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) are being accused by sex-workers of abusing them while they go about their illegal business in the country’s streets.
This transpired at the National Sex-workers indaba held this week where four sex workers extracted the files on the police for human rights abuses.
However, the police, who were said to have been invited, were not present during the meeting.
During the event, which was organised by the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) known as Voice Of Our Voices (VOOV), it was stated that there are 12 000 known sex workers in the country.
Part of the event also focused on the dissemination of Integrated Bio-behavioural Surveillance Survey (IBBSS), which states that globally, the Key Populations (KPs) which are subpopulations within the general population, including sex workers are at higher risk of HIV exposure because they engage in highly stigmatised behaviours and often are marginalised in their communities.
The sex-workers are also said to be called sex-workers because they admitted to be making an income from ‘selling sex.’
Sharing their testimonials where information on HIV/AIDS programmes for Key Populations, including female sex workers, three of the four sex workers shared gritty encounters with the police.
Stakeholders studying sex-workers said rape among sex-workers was still happening unabated.
Bee Dlamini* from Manzini said she was assaulted all over the body by the police.
“I was bed-ridden for days and failed to go out to hustle for my children,” she said to the attentive audience of over 200 people in attendance.
She said she tried to report the matter against the police officers, whom she did not disclose, but her efforts were watered down by the officers she found at the police station, who called her with offensive words.
She said officers at the police station said she reeked and ordered her to get out of their sight.
She said she was part of the sex-workers plying their trade at the city centres, however, each time they would see the police, they evade them.
She said the patrolling police would chase after them, extract them from their hiding places and assault them.
After the question and answer session as soon as the panel had shared their experiences, one of the sex-workers claimed a police officer picked her from the road and diverted her to a forest, where he drew a gun.
She said the officer placed the firearm on his thigh and ordered her to perform acts which cannot be repeated for ethical reasons.
She said despite an adour from the male’s private parts to suggest that he could have a sexually transmitted disease; she complied with what he said in fear for her life.
“He clearly told me not to touch the gun and said he would not hesitate to shoot at me with it. He said I had to choose whether he shoots me or not to pay me. I told him to spare me and even said I would do everything he wanted,” she said.
Sakhile said she fell pregnant at the age of 17 and had to drop out of school in order to survive. she said she joined sex-work in order to feed her child.
She said her encounter with the police was when she was picked out by one of the officers, who diverted her to a secluded place and threatened to shoot at her. She said she was made to choose whether he drops her at unfamiliar surroundings or shoot at her, whereby she said she chose to get out of the motor vehicle.
Zubi* from Matsapha shared similar sentiments.
She said she was forced by life’s circumstances to join sex work, which she has been doing from 2010.
“I was 13 when I started,” she said adding,
“I was in school. I had to quit. I was introduced to it by friends. I found out that I had to sleep with different sex partners and sometimes without protection because they paid more.”
Another, Girlie* also from Manzini said she has children to feed as a single parent and the fathers are a deadbeat.
“This isn’t nice. However, we have to feed our children,” she said.
From the floor, more sex workers chipped in. One said during the national lockdown, which was to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the police used to chase them away from the roads, adding that they sometimes received extensive assaults.
“We were whipped and abused a lot. However, we had to go back again and again. If I did not go out what would I eat? I am on ARVs and they demand that I eat food,” she exclaimed.
The police were not represented in the meeting. VOOV Director Lungile Khumalo said the invitation to the police was sent, however, it might have been sent too late ahead of the event, which took almost half a day on Wednesday.
She also said not all the police were not willing to assist sex workers in reporting cases. She said in 2014, a station commander in one of the regions was instrumental in exerting force to desk officers to report the complaint, which gave them a bit of hope.
Khumalo said, however, police took orders which they could not refuse.
“They even alerted us when such orders came out to evacuate the hotspots, which we would then spread across,” she said.
Khumalo said they had devised other plans, including mobilising the use of citizen journalism.
Citizen journalism is the act of non-professional individuals reporting and sharing news and events, often through social media or other online platforms.
The testimonials shared showed that not only were the police the common alleged culprits but all sectors of the public seemed to take advantage of sex workers, especially those who were vulnerable and not protected.
Girlie, said her encounters had nothing to do with the police.
Girlie who said she started sex-work in the year 2006, said in one eventful day, she was attending to a call-in client whereby she had to travel and was prepared to spend the night at the client’s place, but all hell broke loose when she ended up being attacked and had to give in to free services to protect her own life.
“We reached a tunnel at Ezulwini, where the man drew a huge knife and threatened me. He raped me and also stole my cellphone and the money I had in my pockets,” she said.
Girlie said she did not bother to report the matter to the police, but went to the clinic and received medication. She also said she did not receive any counselling services.
Another transgendered sex-worker, Sibo, said some of the clients stalk and threaten them. He added that healthcare workers in hospitals marginalised and stigmatised them calling them offensive words.
“You could hear them saying, ‘What is this? (Yimphica badzala). This makes it hard to continue to seek help even if you feel you might have complications,” Sibo said.
*Not their real names to protect their identities
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