Help Wanted: Sex Workers in Katutura, Namibia

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Help Wanted: Sex Workers in Katutura, Namibia


Two issues have been at the forefront of public discourse regarding commercial sex work in Namibia: HIV/AIDS and legal reform. Although there has been significant legal reform in other areas, the Combating of Immoral Practices Act (No. 21 of 1980) which was enacted during the colonial era remains unchanged in regards to commercial sex. The Act criminalises several sex-related activities including soliciting sex in public, pandering, and keeping a brothel. It is genderbiased, mentioning women but not men as those who potentially sell sex. Research has proven that Namibian sex workers are at great risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, are often forced to have unsafe sex, and suffer from sexual violence and police harassment. (LAC 2002, LeBeau 2007). The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) has been at the forefront of the efforts to decriminalise sex work. It is believed that removing the criminality from sex work will empower sex workers to better negotiate safer sex practices and protect their human rights. However, decriminalisation remains a controversial issue and has not been supported by the government, church organisations, or the general public (LAC 2002). Morality and national pride seem to be the justification for the continuation of the marginalisation of sex workers. LAC’s research, conducted by their Gender Research and Advocacy Project in 2001 and published as a report entitled Whose Body is it?: Commercial Sex Work and the Law in Namibia, is the largest and most comprehensive study of sex work in Namibia. One hundred and forty-eight sex workers from five different towns were interviewed. In this paper I will present the findings from interviews conducted with 62 sex workers in 2006 and compare these findings with LAC’s research to see if the profile or situation of sex workers has changed over the last five years. A comparison of the two data sets suggests that the risk of physical abuse, police harassment, and forced unsafe sex are increasing and that criminality of sex work forces sex workers to operate under life-threatening conditions.


Suzanne LaFont



Legal Assistance Centre




© Legal Assistance Centre, 2008







Suzanne LaFont, “Help Wanted: Sex Workers in Katutura, Namibia,” Namibia Digital Repository, accessed October 5, 2023,

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