Real Talk


The landscape of human trafficking in south africa

The forms of human trafficking found in South Africa include sex trafficking, child labour, domestic servitude, organ smuggling, child-brides i.e uKuthwala, illegal adoptions, forced surrogacy and the use of body parts for medicine. South Africa is a primary source and transit country for human trafficking. Victims are lured into the country with the promise of a better life and employment.


Women and young people with low education, that are unemployed, and without support of family or community are amongst the most vulnerable. With promises of modelling careers, romantic interests or friendship, our girls are taken advantage of and used for the sex and drug trade. We urge communities to be vigilant and report anything suspicious. Many victims don’t know they are being victimised until it is too late.


“The environment we work in has been described as a dark underworld.

Is it dark? Yes. Is it an underworld. No.

It’s a daily life for thousands in our city. It’s right there on the surface for those who are willing enough to see.”


Is it not a person's choice to go into sex work?

We’re all told that ‘sex sells’, and we know that selling sex pays. Most people think that these women choose to be sex workers for the money. But this is not true for all. While some do choose sex work as a job, for the majority of the women we work with, it is a matter of survival, not of choice.


It begins in the home, when a young person is exposed to violence, drug and alcohol abuse, neglect or lack of love, they experience extreme turmoil and run away in an attempt to take control and better their lives. These broken young people become homeless, with no income or protection.  They are vulnerable to promises of love, affection and safety by “boyfriends” who lead them to drugs as an escape.


Sex work is often sold by these 'boyfriends' turned pimps as an answer to alleviate immediate financial needs. This power dynamic quickly escalates to the point where drugs are used as a control measure for forcing sex work on these young people. Being addicted to drugs is key to being enslaved to sex work. Coupled with a misguided love for their boyfriends/pimps and, having severed ties with their families, these young people have no way of getting out.

Is it happening in my area?

Durban harbour is one of the busiest entry points into the country, second to OR Tambo, and has quickly become the trafficking capital of South Africa. Other contributing factors that have made trafficking rife in our country are the high crime, orphan and AIDS rates exacerbated by low education levels.


We can’t turn a blind eye to trafficking when it’s happening in every community. People are under false assumption that it only happens in poorer communities, when it’s actually happening in your neighbourhood, even young people with affluent backgrounds are affected. Trafficking has no socio- economic boundaries.

Doesn’t the Government offer support?

The law with regard to sex work has been in discussion for decades, but in 2017 the African National Congress pledged to decriminalise it and remove the laws against it, which is still in discussion. Whether it is legalised or not, sex workers remain vulnerable to violence and discrimination when accessing health and safety services.


Our government does not adequately support victims of sex trafficking. Sex workers rely on NPOs for support i.e. transport to court, hospitals, counselling and immediate trauma relief. Currently, there are no facilities for sex workers to escape to and with your help, we are working to change that.

Why can’t they just stay in shelters?

Shelters are not always a place of refuge. Running a shelter has become a lucrative business in Durban, exploiting desperate people and generating up to R200 000 a month in revenue. Years have passed since Durban officials promised that shelters would become strictly regulated, yet more shelters have opened up over the past years and remain a health and safety hazard, preying on the desperate and growing population of the homeless.


Not all shelters exploit the homeless, they offer sincere refuge to those who are struggling. Shelters run or funded by local churches are strictly regulated, and as little as R10 gets them a shower, a warm, safe bed to sleep in, and a home-cooked meal. On the other end, run down shelters rates start between R20 and R150 for a bed with no sheets or pillows, often no hot water, and drugs are openly traded and used. We are trying to get women out of these situations. We do not want them in shelters where they are vulnerable and can fall into the trap of drug and sexual abuse.

How do I protect the young women in my community?

It is a delicate task dealing with the dynamics that grow the population of sex workers in Durban but there are some things you can do.


Create awareness. Educating people in your community on the reality that no person or community is above falling prey to trafficking. Talk openly about the methods young people are preyed upon, why these tactics work and how to combat them.


Work with people with a passion to flight this plight. Mobilise or be active in church drives that service the immediate needs of sex workers.


Be vigilant with young people who are susceptible to running away in your community.  Create a greater community impact, fighting the plight of brokenness in homes so you can actively support young people. Being active, counted and heard in community meetings and drives makes a big difference.


By educating on the realities of sex trafficking and being part of support systems of vulnerable members in your community, a lot can be done to reduce the numbers of young people who succumb to the sex work trap.

How do I look out for trafficked people in my community?

Below is a list of signs that someone is being trafficked. Please contact us immediately; we can help.

The person:

  1. Is fearful of their 'partner'.

  2. Have no money of their own.

  3. Lack basic health care - dirty hair, or sores on skin.

  4. Shows signs of physical or sexual abuse.

  5. Has very few or no personal possessions.

  6. Does not have any identification documents.

  7. Can’t speak for themselves unless a third party allows them to, or needs translation.

  8. Inability to clarify where they stay.

  9. Show signs of excessive drug use.

  10. They adhere to rules that limit their freedom i.e they are not free to come and go as they wish.

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