What Vice Squads do to stop street prostitution, Cape Town

Laura Agustín's picture

What an old-fashioned term Vice Squad sounds. I imagined, foolishly, that any contemporary police force would look for a blander, more politically correct term: Orderly Cities, or Safe Streets. But no, right there in Cape Town, South Africa, they are setting up a Vice Squad to get rid of prostitution, on the grounds that it attracts other crimes like money laundering. The vices that Vice Squads address involve drugs, alcohol, commercial sex including pornography and gambling. Even the word vice sounds dated to me.

Many people new to sex-industry debates don’t know what anti-prostitution laws actually mean for sex workers: what police do to stop their activities. I posted a video showing street round-ups in Spain not long ago. Here are tactics summarised by a Cape Town police official, relating only to street prostitution. These plans go directly against a court order obtained by SWEAT (Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce) preventing police and the city’s officers from detaining prostitutes without proceeding to prosecution. That’s another story; here I’ve included only excerpts from an article by Murray Williams in the Cape Argus, 28 September 2009. Note: 500 Rand = 44.6 euros.

        ‘The City of Cape Town has launched a vice squad to crack down on prostitutes working the streets of the city’s suburbs – and their clients can also expect harsher treatment. As part of the city’s new strategy, it also plans to arrest the sex workers’ clients, instead of just giving them spot fines as is the current practice. . . These officers would be specially trained to carry out surveillance on prostitutes, to arrest them and ensure their successful prosecution.

  • 18 prostitutes were arrested along the main road through Bellville, Goodwood and Parow on Friday night.
  • This week the squad plans to focus on the city’s other notorious red light areas. . .
    Smith said the police . . . would specifically aim to prosecute.
  • “we are going to document these cases very carefully,” Smith explained. “In the past, [prostitutes] have lied about the details. So during the 12 hours that we are allowed to detain them, we will be checking up on their addresses, to ensure that we can compel them to pay their fines.” The fines were R500 for a first offence, R1000 for a second offence and R1500 for a third offence.
  • the city would be photographing the prostitutes on their arrest, to enable officers to charge them accordingly for repeat offences.
  • . . . the city would also be increasing the fines. . . [to] R1000 for a first offence, R2500 for a second offence and a “non-admission-of-guilt” charge for a third offence, meaning they would not have the option of paying a fine but would have to appear in court..

. . . “We want to find out why these cases are being thrown out, and what evidentiary chain is necessary. We will then train these staffers to get the evidence, so can successfully get convictions” . . .  Prosecution of prostitutes is governed by both the national Sexual Offences Act and the city’s bylaws preventing “nuisances in the streets and public places”.’

(Posted at Border Thinking on Migration, Traficking & Commercial Sex)

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