Four in ten sex workers in Swaziland / Eswatini say they have been raped by uniformed police officers.
They were also raped by soldiers and security officers, the Sex Workers National Indaba was told on Tuesday (30 October 2018).
National Key Populations and Vulnerable Groups Officer Khanyisile Lukhele from the Swaziland National AIDS Programme (SNAP) revealed the statistics. Lukhele also said 44 per cent of those who were raped were afraid to report the attack for fear of being stigmatised.
The Swazi Observer reported she said half the sex workers who took part in a survey said they were refused police protection and some had been blackmailed and physically harassed.
Sex workers from across Swaziland gave testimony at the workshop. The Observer reported, 'The sex workers said they do not get any police protection and every time they are attacked and call the police they are simply told to go to sleep.
'They said the sad part was that some of the attacks are done by the same police officers who should be protecting them.'
Chief Police Information and Communications Officer Phindile Vilakati disputed the sex workers' accounts. The Observer reported, 'She said [police] view such accusations as a way to tarnish their name.'
This was not the first time police in Swaziland had been said to rape sex workers. In August 2017 Swaziland's police chief Isaac Magagula denied his officers used sex workers without paying. His comment came when he said prostitutes were an 'infestation of our cities'.
Police had been clamping down against female sex workers across the kingdom. In a statement published in Swazi media National Commissioner of Police Magagula said it was wrong to say that sex workers, 'are targeted because of sour grapes that police officers are failing to pay for services rendered'.
He did not state that police officers did not use the services of prostitutes. Prostitution is illegal in Swaziland.
There is a lot of evidence that policeman in Swaziland use prostitutes. A survey published by the Swaziland Government in 2007 on female sex workers listed police officers among their 'commonest clients.'
Separately, in 2010, Alec Lushaba, then editor of the Weekend Observer newspaper in Swaziland, wrote, 'In a country known for its skyrocketing HIV and AIDS rates, conservatism, Christianity and traditional mores, it may come as a surprise that the abuse and rape of sex workers in Swaziland at the hands of police is a growing and widespread problem.
'Sex work, known as one of the oldest trades, is still illegal in the country, yet sex workers have reported targeted campaigns of rape and violence at the hands of Swazi police.'
In an article published by Gender Links, Lushaba wrote, 'A recent report by Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAAGA), in partnership with other local organisations, noted: "It is not just that they are arrested, to a greater or lesser degree they are forced by police to comply with demands for free sex or sex in exchange for not being arrested."'