n South African Journal on Human Rights - Adult, consensual sex work in South Africa - the cautionary message of criminal law and sexual morality

Volume 25, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



South Africa's current legal regime criminalises the voluntary selling or buying of adult sex. This article argues that continued criminalisation of voluntary sex work is wasteful and destructive, while being an imprudent use of public resources. It uses the South African Law Reform Commission (SALR C)'s Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution as the starting point to argue in favour of a legal framework that recognises voluntary adult sex workers as legitimate labourers who are entitled to the full protection of the law and human rights. The article considers the theoretical framework on criminal law and sexual morality, while examining how South Africa's legal system has disempowered black women and gay and lesbian people through employing criminal sanction in the sphere of sexual morality. We then argue that most human relationships involve some degree of contractual or transactional behaviour and that any criminal laws inserted into the fray of complex social and sexual relations will draw arbitrary distinctions and create standards that are not judicially manageable. In conclusion, we consider the current New Zealand approach to sex work and argue that South Africa should adapt its model.

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