Rocklands Outreach – Community dialogue with sex workers

In one of the successful outreach programs of 2021, three members from LESEDI LE SETJABA (LLS) and four members from Partners for Sustainable Development Solutions (PSDS) met with various members from the sex worker community in Rocklands, Bloemfontein. Twenty-one sex workers were in attendance, seventeen of whom are South African citizens while four are from Lesotho.

A little background on sex work provided by SWEAT:

Many women – and some men and transgender people – choose to take on sex work as a profession, while others take on sex work as a job or livelihood strategy where there may not be many work opportunities available. They are criminalised and stigmatised. The law and marginalisation make sex workers more vulnerable to assault by clients, pimps, and brothel keepers. They are often harassed by the police or fall victim to crime by having to work within dangerous environments in order to escape public scrutiny. Initially, some of the participants were reluctant to sign registers, however, we assured them that their information would be kept confidential.

Our work

As usual, Memory from PSDS opened the event which invited Misa Swaat (LLS) to present on PreP and the use of protection. The demonstration focused on the uses of female and male condoms, focusing on the dos and don’ts of the process. Furthermore, Misa emphasized the use of lubricants and highlighted the utilisation of both protection as well as PrEP by HIV-negative women.

Open and free dialogue was encouraged in the form of small group and one-on-one engagements. Thanks to this community dialogue, one participant who was suspected to be pregnant, obtained a pregnancy test thanks to the efforts of the organisers. In another case, a suspected victim of domestic violence was identified. These outreach programs continue to provide valuable support for such discriminated communities such as sex workers in South Africa. During this event, the challenges sex workers face with accessing health services were highlighted yet again. A participant had recently tested positive for HIV and required assistance with gaining treatment.

The participants were given ten boxes of male condoms and one box of female condoms. Information Education and Communication (IEC) materials were also distributed:

• PrEP Information/Fact Sheet
• Inspired to Live – How to use a female condom
• I tested HIV negative. Now what?
• Everything you need to know about tuberculosis
• Stakeholder Referral Protocol for USMC in SA
• A Refugee’s Service – Guide to South Africa
• PrEP – We are the generation that will end HIV
• COSUP – community-oriented substance abuse program
• HIV self-screening
• Restoring Family Links
• She Conquers – Your viral load

Subsequent to the training, some sex workers were arrested by the police. When Mme Nthabiseng went to follow up on these ladies, she was accosted by those who attended the workshop. They demanded compensation for attending the workshop and threatened to burn the Life Skills Centre if they did not receive compensation for time spent at the workshop from PSDS.

There is still more work to be done to help sex workers in South Africa and PSDS will continue to work with various organisations to ensure that ground is covered to remove the discrimination and danger they face.