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      Targets of Hate, Shame or Exploitation?: The (Violent) Conundrum of Sex Work in Democratic South Africa



            Whorephobia is the fear or hatred of sex workers. Whorephobia manifests in various ways in official legislation, popular consciousness, the medical literature, law enforcement and public responses to sex work. All aspects of sex work are fully criminalised following its origins in archaic colonial law. International and local literature has documented how the criminal law on adult, consensual sex work renders sex workers vulnerable to murder, rape, exploitation and other forms of violence, while increasing their risk of HIV and other forms of ill health. This vulnerability impacts directly on public health, while making society less safe. Deeply worryingly, recent recommendations from the South African Law Reform Commission (2017) urged the Department of Justice to maintain this status quo.

            This article explores whorephobia in the South African context through two case studies of violence in Cape Town in 2013: the high-profile criminal case of the artist Zwelethu Mthethwa who kicked sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo to death, and Tim Osrin's assault of domestic worker Cynthia Joni. The analysis provides a critique of the power structures created by the criminal law and draws on the theoretical framework of stigma-mitigating strategies within sex work developed by Weitzer. We conclude by arguing that the criminal law supports the radical dehumanisation of sex workers which contributes to manifestations of extreme hatred in the form of hate crimes and torture.


            Author and article information

            International Journal of Critical Diversity Studies
            Pluto Journals
            1 June 2020
            : 3
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.13169/intecritdivestud.3.issue-1 )
            : 9-24
            African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
            Independent Scholar, Sonke Gender Justice, Cape Town, South Africa
            Independent Scholar, Cape Town, South Africa
            © 2020 International Journal of Critical Diversity Studies

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            Custom metadata

            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            Sex work,South Africa,stigma,whorephobia,hate crimes


            1. National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and Another v. Minister of Justice and Others 1999 (1) SA 6 (CC).

            2. Minister of Home Affairs and Another v. Fourie and Another 2006 (1) SA 524 (CC). This landmark decision led to the passing of the Civil Union Act 17 of 2006.

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            7. Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill [B9-2018]. Available at: www.justice.gov.za/legislation/hcbill/B9-2018-HateCrimesBill.pdf


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