In South Africa, the police threaten sex workers with arbitrary arrest, demand bribes, and abuse and sexually violate them. As a criminalized group, sex workers have felt powerless to confront abuse by both clients and police, and in turn, unable to rely on police when they need help. With sex work pushed underground, recent research has shown a strong correlation between criminalization and the risk of HIV infection.

Now, through an innovative program funded by the Open Society Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, sex workers confront this situation with peer support and legal advice.

Supervised by an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre—an organization dedicated to equality for women—four former and current sex workers work as paralegals. From contesting a fine to challenging abuse, the paralegals offer sex workers legal support at their office, over the phone, and during regular street-level outreach.

This short film by the Open Society Foundation shows how sex workers are protecting  themselves with the law.