Cape Town church calls for decriminalisation of sex work

“Jesus was the first to decriminalise sex work” says church banner

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Photo of banner on church
Reverend Alan Storey and members of Asijiki hoist a banner saying “Jesus was the first to decriminalise sex work” on the Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square. Photo: Aidan Jones

Reverend Alan Storey of the Central Methodist Mission, together with members of the Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work, on Thursday hoisted a banner over the church steeple in support of the decriminalisation of sex work.

The banner, which read “Jesus was the first to decriminalise sex work”, is part of the church’s Yellow Banner Theology.

According to the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), this is the first time a South African religious institution has made a public statement in support of the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa.

“What the criminalisation of sex work has done is make a vulnerable group of people even more vulnerable,” said Storey. “The unintended consequences of criminalising sex work are horrific.”

He explained that the criminalisation of sex work disempowers sex workers from insisting on safe sex practices with clients. “This makes sex workers more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.”

Storey said that it also adds to the social stigma and “almost validates their social outcast status”. He said this can make it difficult for sex workers to access health services and law enforcement.

“Speaking on behalf of all sex workers in South Africa, we are so happy that we have pastors who recognise sex workers as human beings,” said Pamela Chakuvinga, assistant national coordinator at national sex workers’ movement Sisonke.

Chakuvinga said that there are religious leaders in Cape Town who think it is evil to do sex work. “They say that sex work is something demonic … They pray for sex workers to leave sex work.”

Constance Nothando Mathe, co-ordinator at Asijiki said: “I would like to emphasise to those pastors that it is not their duty to judge. Only God can do that. They are there to preach the word of God.”

“The church is a non-judgemental space, so people should not judge sex workers,” said Mathe.

Storey admitted that “very often it is the religious community more than any other community, and specifically the Christian church, that promotes criminalisation [of sex work].”

ANC resolution to decriminalise sex work

At its 54th Elective conference in December 2017, the African National Conference (ANC) resolved to decriminalise sex work.

As a result of the resolution, Parliament’s multi-party women’s caucus will host a summit on sex work on 5 March 2018. At the summit, recommendations in the South African Labour Reform Commission’s (SALRC) report on “Adult Prostitution” will be debated.

Asijiki has put together a summary of this report, which is available here.

Lesego Tlhwale, media officer at SWEAT, said that Asijiki, Sisonke and SWEAT would be amongst those presenting at the summit. “They [SALRC] are recommending continual criminalisation and partial criminalisation, but no decriminalisation,” said Tlhwale. She said SWEAT would be contesting these recommendations.

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TOPICS:  Sex work

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

What a shock, after digesting utterances by Rev Alan Storey. The Word of God is very clear with regards to adultery or prostitution. Let us not take the Word of God into vain. Where in the Bible did Jesus decriminalize prostitution? According to John 8:3-11, the woman accusers brought her before Jesus, expecting him to pronounced judgement but he told them that if anyone is without sin then he can start throwing stones. They all left disappointedly so. Jesus said, “Neither I condemn you, Go and Sin No More” Jesus did not say go and continue with your prostitution, I decriminalized it. Jesus was showing His Mercy and His Love by giving people a second chance. Definitely, not for the people to continue and live in their sinful nature ( Proverbs 5, 6:20-35, 7). Honestly, if a sin is cheap, Jesus would not have to undergo the process of being brutally killed. He sacrificed His life for our Sin. The least we can do to show appreciation is to try and live honest life and accept Him as our Savior.

Dear Editor

Before the reverend uses a verse to highlight a point, he should read the immediate context. The yellow banner cites John 8:7. The immediate context (which doesn't appear in some older manuscripts) takes place from 8:2-11.

This is what the story is:
1) The story is about the Pharisees and other religious leaders trying to trap Jesus, and
2) Jesus reminding them that the woman is not the only one who is a slave to sin.

This is what the story isn't:

3) Jesus is not condoning adultery (or sex work for that matter), as he states in verse 11, that he won't condemn her, but she should go now and leave her life of sin. Jesus acknowledges her as an adulteress, but she is not beyond repentance. She must abandon that way of life, by Jesus's command.

One final point on judgement. When the bible says judgement is God's alone, it means that he is the only one who can condemn a person. But it does not mean Christians cannot rebuke a sinner of their wicked ways. If we see a person doing something sinful or evil, not rebuking them of that sin would be the most unloving act ever.

Dear Editor

Yes, the church is there only to preach the true and undiluted Word of God, without leaving out scriptures that don’t suit them e.g. What about verse 11 in John 8 where Jesus tells the woman, “Go and sin no more”?

Founded in 2008, STOP Trafficking Of People (STOP) is a South African, registered NPO. We aim to combat all aspects of human trafficking through advocacy, awareness, prevention and victim support. STOP also endeavours to mobilize and empower individuals and communities to use the safety tools available to them to prevent human trafficking and to get structures in place to counteract vulnerability. STOP partners with other organizations in the field to ensure optimal efficiency.

Due to the nature of our work we believe that, should prostitution be decriminalised, it would gravely affect what we do. Legalization of the prostitution industry would undoubtedly blur the lines between abuse and ‘work’, which we believe will negatively impact the perceptions of youth about exploitation, leading to an increased vulnerability and problematic reporting of statistics. This will specifically impact our efforts to ‘traffic proof’ children so that they don’t fall prey to exploitation.

The legalization of prostitution would legally justify exploitation, and given the high rates of youth unemployment in South Africa, would in all likelihood see a sharp and shocking rise in the number of ‘sex workers’ (as has been evidenced in countries where legalization has taken place), including those under-age, with a concomitant rise in levels of exploitation and outright physical abuse. South Africa already faces a huge problem with violence, and especially sexual violence towards women. It also has a serious problem with migration and trafficking. We argue that there is a distinct link between prostitution and trafficking, which cannot be denied. These national problems will be significantly added to by the legalisation of prostitution in South Africa, with profoundly negative regional, continental and global consequences.

Dear Editor

The Rev Storey and his friends are referring to "another Jesus". . .(2 Corinth11;4). It would be degrading to mention the Name of the Saviour (Matt 1:21) here. Hai abamazi.

Dear Editor

Thank you for publishing the important article on one progressive church’s position on sex work and the law. I have read the subsequent letters to the editor with a heavy heart.

The letter-writers appear to be judgmental and have little compassion. There also seems to be little understanding of how many women (but also men and transgender people) need to make a living in deeply unequal South Africa, how women have to provide for themselves, and for their extended families.

I am not an expert in the interpretation of religious texts, and would recommend the sermon of Minister Alan Storey that goes with this 'Yellow Banner' to clarify the debate on scriptures:

I would also like to correct three inaccuracies in the letters here:

1.) Sex workers experience abuse, corruption, rape, violence and exploitation not because of selling sexual services, but because of the criminal law that governs sex work, and the social stigma that surrounds it. These things make sex workers vulnerable.

2.) Law and morality are not the same thing.

It is possible to strongly advocate that the criminal law is removed from sex work ('decriminalisation') as it increases violence and abuse in our society, while still personally maintaining sex work is “wrong” or a “sin”; and

3.) Sex work and trafficking are not the same.

Sex work refers to adult, consensual sex for reward. Trafficking is a gross human rights violation and includes elements of deception and movement for the purposes of exploitation, as defined by the United Nations definition.

I see the message on the building of the Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town as an important reminder of how cruel the law can be, and how it should be changed to acknowledge people’s dignity and humanity.

Dear Editor

I felt a sinful compulsion to go through your letter and offer criticism. Instead let me die to myself and spread the Gospel. I hope you see this response…

I do feel sorrow for people who choose sex work as a means of income, but not predominantly because of the abuse they receive. It is because they choose to live separated from God. We are created in God’s image, and because of that our humanity is sacred. If we choose to separate ourselves from God, we desacralize ourselves.

You are partially right about one thing. Man-made laws and morality are not the same thing. What man tries to enforce isn’t necessarily aligned with morality. But God’s commandments, which is based on His own perfect standard and written on our hearts, is one in the same. The Bible says: “You shall not commit adultery”, yet people have sex outside of marriage, prostitute themselves and are unfaithful every day, even though this is immoral. This is not a suggestion, this is His will.

I, like some of the previous letter writers, HATE to see God’s word used to propagate sin, which is why we responded to the article. It was not because we are hateful towards sex workers, uncompassionate or see ourselves as morally superior. We are all sinners under God, including myself. It is because we want them to know true love; the loving sacrifice of Jesus, who takes on our sin and inequities, and allows us to be reconciled with God. We want them to know that there is hope in the loving embrace of Jesus.

Marlise, I pray for these women and men, that they will find the peace that is in Christ. Let them find peace in life everlasting, not in this world. I pray for you, that you would come to know Christ if you haven’t yet. Please don’t listen to clouds without water, like Alan Storey. Read the scriptures that were given by God, and be guided by the Holy Spirit to know the truth.

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