Doctor advocate who pushed legalized prostitution on teens, appointed to UN health policy position

Sex trafficking
A sex trafficking victim waits for customers. |

A South African doctor who has advocated for the legalization of prostitution and has encouraged minors to support "sex work" as a job, has been appointed to an influential role at the United Nations.

Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng was appointed by the Human Rights Council in Geneva as a special rapporteur on the right to health earlier this summer. The role is independent from U.N. member states but is considered influential in that she will have sway over how human rights obligations are interpreted within the international government's agencies, C-FAM reported last week. C-FAM noted that her reports advancing "sexual rights," including advocacy for the legalization of prostitution, will likely be cited as authoritative in human rights law by U.N. entities.

"Rapporteur" is a French-derived word that means an investigator who reports to a deliberative body.

According to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner, the special rapporteur position entails examining, monitoring, advising, and publicly reporting on human rights issues through "activities undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities."

Last April, Mofokeng was widely panned by anti-trafficking groups for an editorial she wrote in Teen Vogue arguing that "sex work" — which would include a variety of sexual acts for money, including prostitution — is a legitimate form of employment and ought to be legally regarded as such.

The doctor also likened her own profession to "sex work."

"I exchange payment in the form of money with people to provide them with advice and treatment for sex-related problems; therapy for sexual performance, counseling and therapy for relationship problems, and treatment of sexually transmitted infection. Isn't this basically sex work?" she wrote in Teen Vogue at the time.

"I do not believe it is right or just that people who exchange sexual services for money are criminalized and I am not for what I do. Is a medical degree really the right measure of who is deserving of dignity, autonomy, safety in the work place, fair trade and freedom of employment? No. This should not be so. Those who engage in sex work deserve those things, too."

Under the banner of "sex worker rights," Mofokeng and like-minded others say that those in prostitution should not face criminal penalties as there is nothing inherently wrong with selling sex and that laws against the sex trade will cause it to go underground and yield more danger whereas legalizing it reduces harm.

By contrast, sex trade abolitionists, who often back what is known as the Nordic model — a public policy approach that bans the purchase of sex but not the sale — assert that legalizing or fully decriminalizing the trade will increase monstrous forms of sexual exploitation. If prostitution is legal it will yield increased demand but not enough supply and greater numbers of women will be trafficked into the trade, they say.

“The law that Dr. Mofokeng advocates for fully decriminalizes all aspects of the sex-trade, including brothel-keepers and pimps (aka traffickers)," said Helen Taylor, director of Intervention for the Sacramento-based abolitionist group Exodus Cry.

“The United Nations ought to be the last place to advocate for human-traffickers and the buyers who fuel demand to be legalized.”

The International Planned Parenthood Federation hailed Mofokeng's appointment. Mofokeng is also an abortion provider and the author of Dr. T: A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure. She hosts a South African television show called “Sex Talk with Dr. T.”

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