Updated 21 October 2015

Kuruman police allegedly threaten sex workers for free services

Policemen in Kuruman in the Northern Cape are allegedly threatening local sex workers for free services.


Carrying a badge and wearing a uniform have not stopped Kuruman police from allegedly threatening sex workers in an attempt to coerce sex workers to provide their services for free, according to Northern Cape Provincial AIDS Council Chairperson Beau Nkaelang.

Nkaelang was speaking at a recent educational open day for sex workers in Kuruman, Northern Cape.  He added that sex workers were not the only ones who could benefit from an education in HIV prevention and human rights.

According to Nkaelang, sex workers’ clients remain nameless faces that are often left out of education and awareness campaigns despite the power they wield. 

“Some (clients) take advantage and use their masculinity to avoid paying for services and sometimes drive away with the money,” he said. “Amongst the clients, some of them are people in power such as police officials who allegedly threaten sex workers to give them free services - some do this even in their uniforms.”

South African Police Services’ Kuruman police station has said that no such formal charges have been laid against officers at the station.

Samuel Herman is a programme coordinator with the national Red Umbrella Programme sex worker project, which is currently using peer educators to help reach out to sex workers and teens in danger, and distribute condoms.

“We encourage sex workers to take responsibility and to know how to defend themselves,” Herman said. “We encourage them to go in groups in the field in order to help each other in capturing car registration numbers because some clients take advantage and don’t want to pay after the service.

“We actually encourage them to request cash first, service last,” said Herman, who added that he was also aware of Kuruman teens who were being sexually exploited in return for money, drugs or alcohol.  

“Our strategy is to empower sex workers themselves but, because many face rejection because they have family and friends living in and around Kuruman ,they don’t always want to be seen getting this help,” he added “We support the programme because we believe that we cannot beat /fight HIV when we don’t include (them).”

A recent study by the South African National AIDS Council estimated that 153,000 sex workers were active in South Africa. The study is aimed at helping the South African National AIDS Council roll out a national HIV prevention and treatment programme for sex workers.

A July 2014 study published in the international medical journal The Lancet estimated that at least six percent of all new HIV infections in the country are linked to sex work. 

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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