In September 2011 the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC) and the Wits Institute for Sexual Reproductive Health and Related Diseases established a legal empowerment program for sex workers in response to high levels of police violence in Hillbrow (Johannesburg).
TLAC initially employed two sex worker paralegals to reach out to sex worker communities and offer basic human rights education. The paralegals documented cases of human rights abuses against sex workers and acted as a referral point to TLAC’s staff attorney for legal representation.
The Open Society Foundations are also supporting a similar program in Cape Town, facilitated by the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC), as well as other sites across the world.
WLC began its outreach by offering weekly group workshops on human rights to sex workers. It soon expanded, employing four former and current sex workers as paralegals. ‘We know the industry. It is easy to communicate freely without fear of being stigmatised since we share similar experiences in their line of duty’, said one of the WLC paralegals Ncumisa Sonandi. Anita Mambumba, another paralegal agrees with her colleague, ‘It is very important because we understand the difficulties and obstacles that sex workers encounter on a daily basis’.
Sex work is criminalised in South Africa and sex workers face routine harassment, intimidation, and even abuse from police. For more about the work done by WLC paralegals watch this video documentary titled, ‘In South Africa, Sex Workers Arm Themselves with the Law’.