Namibia: Sex Workers Slam Police Harassment

LOCAL and foreign sex workers who ply their trade on the streets of Windhoek have described police behaviour as unfair harassment.

This comes after 16 foreign sex workers were among those arrested and detained for a month at the Hosea Kutako International Airport police cells.

Thirty-two-year-old Sunshine (not her real name) from Zimbabwe has been 'working' in Namibia for three years. She told The Namibian last week that she is a a law abiding citizen.

"I was not part of the group which was arrested, but I know what they went through. All of them were deported. They came out to find their belongings either confiscated in lieu of rent or thrown outside. As a result, they lost valuables like television sets, clothes and money," she lamented.

Sunshine said she came to Namibia because it is safe and peaceful.

"We do not do this because we want to, but because we have families to feed back home. With this harassment by police, we are afraid to stand on the streets, and our clients are also not coming because of the police. We do not harm anyone but just provide a service," she said.

She asked rhetorically how paying for sex constitutes a crime. "Even though I am not a criminal, I am associated with criminals."

The interview between The Namibian and the sex workers was facilitated by the executive director of the Rights not Rescue Trust of Namibia (RnRT), Nicodemus 'Mama Africa' Aochamub at a guest house in Windhoek.

When we first sat down with Sunshine, the other women (sex workers) were passing by and showed no interest in talking at first, but later joined in.

The second woman, Smiley*, said she is hurt and disappointed by how her 'colleagues' were treated.

"Imagine, some of the women are on medication, and the way they were treated in police cells is not how you treat human beings, despite what they may have done. One of the women claimed that male police officers were using abusive language towards them and also wanted favours," Smiley said.

According to police spokesperson deputy commissioner Edwin Kanguatjivi, soliciting favours from inmates is a crime.

"If there is proof that this happened, the police officers involved will be brought to book because soliciting favours be it monetary or sexual is a crime," said Kanguatjivi.

Aochamub, whose organisation advocates the decriminalisation of sex work, asked why the sex workers were kept in police custody for about a month without charges.

"By criminalising sex work and the industry, police are making them (sex workers) more vulnerable, and this forces them to go underground. It hinders their access to health and legal services, and this is increasing the spread of HIV-AIDS and other STIs. It is time to work together," stressed Aochamub.

If police continue the harassment, it will make sex workers easy targets for violence, he continued.

In response, Kanguatjivi said the majority of the 16 sex workers arrested did not have proper documentation, and were thus detained by immigration officers. The police detained them on behalf of the immigration department, he said.

"Initially, 40 sex workers were arrested. In this group were some Namibians who were released because they had proper documentation as well as some foreigners, who had study permits.

The 16 who were detained did not have valid papers, and police were not sure how they had entered the country. As per the law, the immigration department is supposed to detain them for 14 days for further investigations, and after that they must leave the country. Maybe this process took a bit longer, but like I said, the police cells were just hosting them," explained Kanguatjivi.

The sex workers said most of their clients came from all walks of life, with some having disabilities and others lacking social skills to approach women other than sex workers. They also said they act as counsellors to some men who share their problems with them (sex workers).

Source: The Namibian