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Sex Workers Searching for Legal Safety

“We are suffering!” This is the first thing Dorina says when I ask her about her life as a sex worker.

She has been working as a sex worker since she was sixteen years old. She was being raised by her grandmother in Katutura but when her grandmother died of AIDS, she felt that she had no where to turn but to the streets. Dorina is now twenty-one and the harsh life she leads is beginning to show on her face. She looks old and tired but she is eager to tell her story so that “people will understand how hard it is for us”. She complains that it is dangerous to work on the streets of Windhoek because of the police, violent clients, and HIV.

The police are a constant concern. Dorina has been harassed and beaten by them, and on more than one occasion, she has been forced to have sex with the police for free in order avoid being arrested. She has been arrested three times. Once she was held for several hours and then let go without explanation. Another time, she had to pay a “fine” before being released. Her third arrest earned her some time in prison but on her release she returned to sex work because she has “no other way to survive”.

Dorina’s clients come from all walks of life but they seem to have one thing in common – contempt for the very sex workers they frequent. She says it is not uncommon for men to drive her out to the veld for sex. After the act, they beat her, refuse to pay, and leave her to walk home empty-handed. She displays scars she has from being stabbed by her clients with knives and broken bottles. Once after being robbed and beaten by a client, Dorina went to the police. She says they threatened to arrest her and dismissed her claim of being victimized.

Even when the clients do pay, it is barely enough to buy food. The going rate for sex on the streets of Windhoek is N$30 (about $4US) but Dorina admits that when she is hungry, she has had sex for as little as N$10.

She has also been forced to have unsafe sex and worries that she is HIV positive. Dorina hates doing sex work and warn girls to stay away from the streets. She does not believe that she will be able to leave the streets any time soon and feels trapped in a hopeless situation.

Dorina believes that sex work would be much safer if it was not illegal. She says that if she would knew that she would be protected by the police, she could better negotiate safe sex and avoid being robbed and beaten by her clients.

Dorina’s story is not unique. Many other sex workers told me about harassment, beatings, robberies, and rape. The current Combating of Immoral Practice Act has not prevented sex work from taking place. Instead it has marginalized sex workers, putting them at risk of beating, harassment, and HIV.

To address this issue, the Legal Assistance Centre is urging the government to decriminalise sex work and educate sex workers and the public about their rights. Decriminalisation could also empower sex workers to report crimes committed against them to the police and to seek legal redress when forced to engage in a potentially life-threatening activity.

Given the poverty and the prevalence of HIV in Namibia, morality should not be standing in the way of the human rights, health, and dignity of its citizens.

  • Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

To better understand sex work in Namibia read the research report Whose Body Is It available in PDF.

This testimonial was written by Dr. Suzanne LaFont and is based on data she collected while conducting research on the lives of sex workers. She continues to work with GR&AP and will publish a report on her findings in the near future.

Read about other people the LAC is assisting

Last update: April 2008


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