Sex workers lift the lid on rape allegations

JOHN HARVEY

Sex workers in the Claremont-Kenilworth area claim they are being raped by police officers and men posing as such.

This and other shocking allegations emerged during a candid interview with a veteran sex worker at the Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) offices in Observatory last week.

However, Wynberg police cluster spokeswoman Captain Angie Latchman said according to records at SAPS Claremont there had been no complaints “bogus police officers” targeting sex workers targeted or sexually assaulting them.

“The allegations of sexual assault are seen in a serious light, and they are urged to report this to the SAPS in order for us to address the matter and institute the necessary investigations,” Captain Latchman said.

The sex worker, who didn’t want her name published but who works closely with SWEAT, told the Tatler in the presence of Sweat’s media advocacy officer Lesego Tlhwale, that it was a long-standing problem that police picked up female sex workers in Claremont and Kenilworth under the guise of arresting them, only to sexually assault or rape them.

“These police also know those of us who are associated with SWEAT, so they target the sex workers who are not. I do a lot of outreach and these girls tell me that that some of these police do things like throw their bags in a tree so they have to climb up, then they look at their bottom parts. Then when they come down, they rape them,” she said.

The sex worker, who has worked the streets for decades, claimed rogue policemen also extorted sex from the women by threatening them with arrest.

“They are picking up girls, and then say they are going to be arrested or fined R500. Because the girls can’t afford to pay, they do it. The girls need all the money they have to put food on the table. One thing a sex worker never wants to be without is money.” She said the problem was made worse by the presence of “fake” police roaming the streets.

“These men pretend to be policemen, but they aren’t. They carry knives, and they also take the girls to deserted areas around Kenilworth to rape them.”

The sex worker said police were also “rough” with them when they were arrested, often manhandling them before placing them in the cells.

Ms Tlhwale, whose office attends to more than 100 sex workers – women, men and transgender – in any given week, is worried about a rise in violent attacks on sex workers in the southern suburbs.

“Sex workers who operate in the Woodstock and Wynberg areas often report to us that they are being physically abused. Last year, I went on one of the outreach trips to see for myself what it was like on the streets. The sex workers receive threats all the time,” she said.

The sex worker said especially violent clients would pick up sex workers on the streets and drive them to dark, deserted areas in Constantia where they were raped or sexually assaulted.

Ms Tlhwale also referred to the well-publicised alleged assault of domestic worker Cynthia Joni by Kenilworth swimming instructor Tim Osrin.

Mr Osrin has claimed that the October 2, 2014 attack was as a result of him believing Ms Joni was a sex worker. The case has been provisionally withdrawn until such time as Ms Joni is found to be pscychologically fit to testify.

“We don’t believe this is the only case of its kind in the area,” Ms Tlhwale said.

“We are positive there are more instances like this. Many residents threaten sex workers, and domestic workers on their way home from work are targeted as a result of these attitudes. Sex workers constantly tell me that some residents have even tried to deliberately run them down with their cars.”

She said SWEAT was constantly trying to reach out to residents as well as police to offer sensitivity training under the organisation’s Red Umbrella programme.

“The police in Woodstock have been very keen to work with us, whereas we have not had the same success in the Claremont-Kenilworth area. I don’t know if it’s a case of police in that area not wanting to be sensitised.”