Human Rights

Outcry over arrest of sex workers

-as prices shoot through the roof

RUTENDO CHIRUME

MASVINGO- Men across the social strata of the ancient city have come out guns blazing against the police for arresting commercial sex workers going about their business at drinking joints and the red light zones.

They allege that the harassment and arrest of the sex workers has had a negative effect as the prices for the services have shot up through the roof.

The increase in prices has been caused by the shortage of sex workers resulting in less competition although the demand is high.

“We used to pay $2 for a quickie, but that has since gone up to $5 and for the whole night prices used to range from $10 to $25 depending with the age of the sex worker, but that has since changed, prices now range from $20 to as much as $40 or $50,” said a socialite who preferred anonymity for professional reasons.

Recently scores of commercial sex workers were arrested and some pleaded guilty in court while others were remanded in custody after they pleaded not guilty for soliciting for sex.

Others were sentenced to 30 days in prison and those fortunate enough received representation from lawyers for free and managed to escape jail sentence.

“I pleaded guilty because I wanted to go back home and feed my one year old child, I could not afford to spend another day in prison as that would have a toll on me and my toddler hence I decided to do that,” said Rosemary Mapungwana of Mucheke Rank.

 Masvingo Province police spokesperson, Inspector Kudakwashe Dhewa said the commercial sex workers were arrested by plain clothes officers after the women had solicited for sex which is an offence under the country’s laws.

This was after some lawyers had said the arrests were unlawful and a violation of the women’s rights to freedom of movement and association.

“The arrest were not random, we dispatched plain clothes officers and the women openly asked for sex for money and they were arrested,” said Dhewa.

Most men who talked to The Midweek Watch said the presence of commercial sex workers in bars and nightclubs is not only to provide sexual pleasure but also to provide solace and comfort when drinking beer.

Some men argued that sex workers are the most welcoming people who take their job seriously and are harmless to society as long as one meets the agreed terms of engagement.

A Mucheke man who identified himself only as Tinotenda, said the world would be a better place if businesses treated their customers like sex workers do their clients.

He believes police should focus more on complex criminal issues rather than using state resources arresting commercial sex workers who are trying to make ends meet.

“This place is more colourful with the ladies of the night in the streets, they liven these old streets without proper lighting.

“They are the most peaceful and non-judgmental people I have met in my life, they are not violent and would never harm even a fly, unless you breach the agreed contract.

“I am disappointed with the police conduct, there are rapists and murderers even armed robbers who are roaming the streets scot-free, but they are busy chasing after innocent commercial sex workers,” fumed Tino.

Saviour Brown from Rhodene highlighted that sex workers are more caring and they do not nag their partners, no emotions and no heartbreaks are involved.

“Why is the police arresting them, because we need them, as long as we are not complaining then we are ok with them, if they are soliciting and someone feels offended then they should report, but if they are peacefully going about their business, its fine.

“I plead with the police to leave these people alone, some of those women who are complaining were once in the profession and have since retired and are simply jealousy,” he said.

The two’s sentiments were echoed by a National Prosecuting Authority of Zimbabwe (NPA) member at Masvingo Magistrate Court who requested anonymity.

“The ZRP is really amazing, there are more serious issues to address but they are wasting time arresting some individuals who are only trying to honestly survive. 

“The government must address the economic and unemployment challenges that are forcing these people to be in the streets, that is the elephant in the room, chaita musoro uteme chii, not addressing the symptoms.

“If I had my way, I would not even waste scarce stationary on these trivial arrests. They waste time, resources and energy,” said the prosecutor.

Batanai HIV & AIDS Service Organisation (BHASO) Programs Manager, Kumbirai Mahaso raised concern over the exorbitant US$100 fine which the sex workers were ordered to pay after pleading guilty.

“We are concerned over few issues but we are surprised over the fee which was fined these ladies,

 “Some of them are children and would never opt to be in the streets at that age, circumstances are pushing them, where then do you expect them to get such an amount.

“The police should do more than arresting the commercial sex workers, but spread awareness on more pressing issues.

“If they are to be arrested then the police should clearly lay out their charges because from my understanding for one to be charged with soliciting there must be a complainant.

“However, we carried out our own survey and we found out that some of the complaints raised by the community were genuine as there are under age girls involved in prostitution, which is quite worrying.

“There are some who are exhibiting bad behaviour in public in broad day light and we strongly condemn that.

 “We advocate for awareness campaigns for the women and girls involved than arresting them because the prison is not a pleasant place to be as they end up mixing and mingling with hardcore criminals,” said Mahaso.

Former City of Masvingo Mayor, Advocate Collen Maboke.

Recently Advocate Collen Maboke of Ruvengo and Maboke law firm successfully appealed against the conviction of 17 sex workers who had been thrown into prison.

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