MyChamp: Police officer ensuring sex workers’ access to justice in Zimbabwe

MyChamp: Police officer ensuring sex workers’ access to justice in Zimbabwe

Champions for sex workers’ rights are key in protecting human rights. To celebrate their work, we sat down with Chipo Fadzai Feya – a district victim-friendly unit coordinator for Victoria Falls police district in Zimbabwe. She explains how she tackles discrimination against sex workers in policing practices and making sure they can access justice and support services.

When I look back, the thing I am most proud of is the justice I helped a sex worker get, back in 2015. She had been raped and people were saying to me, ‘Ah, but she’s a sex worker, why are you helping her?’. But we persevered, and the perpetrator was charged and sentenced to 15 years in prison. This stood out as an example to police officers of the need to defend sex workers, but it also showed sex workers that they can get justice for the crimes committed against them. It showed them that they can now move freely, and they must work as a team empowering each other in the community. If one sex worker experiences a problem, the other one will jump in and tell them how to report it. Ensuring all people have their rights protected. I trained as a policeman in 2006 and I have been working in the office dealing with violence against women and children since 2011. Specifically, I work in the victim-friendly office. We sensitise women and children about how to defend themselves against violence, where to report violence, what their first steps should be. I am a mediator, so I make sure issues are dealt with fairly and ensure all people have their rights protected. I support sex workers who are criminally charged with having sex with a married man and are now being sued by the wife, for example. In Zimbabwe, the Marriage Act allows for this. But I make sure the sex workers get a fair sentence. Maybe they didn’t know the man was married! I make sure there is no violence in the process and that the judgement is fair.

chipo

Working with NGOs to ensure sex workers report crimes

As a unit, we make sure police officers record sex workers’ claims with no discrimination, and we make sure the environment is free and fair. Long ago, before our colleagues were sensitised, sex workers would come and report that they were raped, for example. Our colleagues would laugh and say, ‘but you are a sex worker, you wanted this’. We taught the colleagues that without consent, it is violence. We taught them that putting blame on sex workers and saying, ‘You are the one who asked for this’, is secondary abuse. But a lot more education is still needed. Some sex workers still fear going to the police and this is where the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) come in. We work hand in glove with the NGOs to ensure sex workers report crimes, but also that they get shelter if they need it, as well as psychosocial support.

 

As a unit, we make sure police officers record sex workers’ claims with no discrimination, and we make sure the environment is free and fair.

 

After a report is taken, we refer all victims for a medical examination, and we also work with partner organisations to ensure all victims get any medical help they need. We also work with the department of social welfare to ensure young girls and women get financial help, or support for specific, additional medical help. Sometimes the victims discover they are pregnant, for example, so we facilitate the process that makes sure they know they can terminate if they want to and that this is done legally and safely.

Educating sex workers and the police

We can’t do this alone. We rely on programmes like Hands Off to offer education to sex workers and the police and to step in and offer psychosocial support. Hands Off and its partners have also helped with the relationship between sex workers and the police. One thing the partners did was educate sex workers on how to report a crime. Sex workers used to come as a group singing and shouting because they thought this was the only way they would be heard. It caused an issue between sex workers and the police, especially because the police didn’t see what sex workers were experiencing in the community and police needed to see sex workers as human beings. Funding from programmes like Hands Off helps with activities around education, awareness, sensitisation. It helps set up community crisis response teams and helps fund peer educators and community focal persons who sex workers know they can go to at any time of day and night if they need help. These are the kinds of activities that the police don’t have funding for, but which help the relationship between police and sex workers.

Compassion for sex workers

In everything we do, we are guided by the constitution which says we must observe human rights and that everyone must be treated fairly, without looking at your job – whatever your job is. You are a sex worker, but you have the right to choose who you sleep with. You have a right to not work if you don’t want to. We teach sex workers that any violence – not being paid, for example, or someone pulling a knife on you - is violence. The law supports everyone.

What motivates me every day in my work is my passion for helping women and children and this is where my compassion for sex workers began. I’ve seen abuse in the communities where I’ve stayed. I’ve seen what that does to people, and I was pushed in the direction of making sure they get justice.

Hands Off programme

Hands Off, an Aidsfonds programme, works directly with sex worker-led groups, police, religious leaders, service providers and NGOs to reduce violence against sex workers in Southern Africa. This story story sheds light on one of the champions of change who work to break down societal barriers to sex workers’ rights. By sharing their stories, Hands Off aims to encourage everyone to stand up for the rights of sex workers. Because human rights are for all. We would like to thank North Star Alliance in Zimbabwe for its assistance in facilitating this interview.

The programme is funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Mozambique.

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