Sex Work, Migration, and Human Trafficking in South Africa: From polarised arguments to potential partnerships

Ntokozo Yingwana, Rebecca Walker, and Alex Etchart, ‘Sex Work,Migration, and Human Trafficking in South Africa: From polarised arguments to potential partnerships’, Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 12, 2019, pp. 74-90. DOI: [OPEN ACCESS]

In South Africa, the conflation of sex work with human trafficking means that migrant/mobile sex workers are often framed as victims of trafficking while arguments for the decriminalisation of sex work are discounted due to claims about the risks of increased trafficking. This is despite the lack of clear evidence that trafficking, including in the sex industry, is a widespread problem. Sex worker organisations have called for an evidence-based approach whereby migration, sex work, and trafficking are distinguished and the debate moves beyond the polarised divisions over sex work. This paper takes up this argument by drawing on research with sex workers and a sex worker organisation in South Africa, as well as reflections shared at two Sex Workers’ Anti-trafficking Research Symposiums. In so doing, the authors propose the further development of a Sex Work, Exploitation, and Migration/Mobility Model that takes into consideration the complexities of the quotidian experiences of migration and selling sex. This, we suggest, could enable a more effective and productive partnership between sex worker organisations and other stakeholder groups, including anti-trafficking and labour rights organisations, trade unions, and others to protect the rights and well-being of all those involved in sex work.

About Ntokozo Yingwana

Ntokozo Yingwana joined the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS, at the University of the Witwatersrand) in April 2016 as the Communication and Research Uptake Officer, and a PhD Candidate. Ntokozo holds a Masters in Gender and Development from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS, at the University of Sussex in England), funded by the Chevening UK Scholarship. Prior to joining ACMS she worked for IDS as the Content Coordinator for the Open Knowledge and Digital Services Unit.

Ntokozo’s experience and skills are in journalism, online media, advocacy, open access/knowledge and research. She freelances as an Online Media Consultant, Digital-storytelling Trainer, and Researcher. However, her main passion lies in gender, sexuality and sex worker rights’ activism in Africa. In the past she has worked for the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), the African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA), and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP).

Under maHp Ntokozo supports the project’s communication and research uptake.