When it comes to rescuing women who are sex workers and victims of human-trafficking wanting to leave the industry, The Domino Foundation’s Red Light Programme has formulated a holistic approach which equips these women to thrive in their new lives.

Saturday July 30 marks World Day Against Trafficking In Persons. For Red Light, every day is dedicated to helping these women exit the sex work industry. This year’s theme focuses on the role of technology as a tool that can both enable and impede human trafficking.

The Red Light team, situated in Durban North, comprises of a team of three ladies each in charge of separate components of the programme: Lungelo Dakile, Reach Out Co-ordinator; Gugu Mazwele, Restore Co-ordinator and Esther Madikane, Release Co-ordinator.

Red Light’s vision is to reach out to, restore and release the survivors of sexual exploitation and human-trafficking. The programme identifies and assists sex workers and vulnerable groups in areas of high prostitution and exploitation. Its desire is to love the ladies into wholeness and build sustainable relationships with them through its sex-trafficking-victims programme.

“We will be opening a reach-out facility (Drop-In Centre) in the Durban CBD in September 2022 which will make it so much easier for women who want help to come in to meet with us. We assess each woman and prepare her for the restoration process,” said Lungelo who oversees Red Light’s Reach-out phase which identifies and assesses vulnerable and exploited individuals.

Once an initial relationship has been built with each woman, she is monitored through her weekly visits to Red Light to assess where she is in her stages of change. She may, at first, be in what is called “pre-contemplation” which is when a woman is not aware that she has a problem and has no intention of changing her current situation. However, Lungelo went on, “The Red Light team continues to reach out to let the woman know that she is ‘seen’ and that the team is there should she decide to seek help.”

Often the pattern is that the woman slowly moves into “contemplating” where she becomes aware that she does have a problem even though she may still have no desire to change. The Drop-in Centre will offer the ladies continued counselling referrals, medical help, skills development, spiritual development and long-term support through internal referrals.

Once the lady enters the behavioural stage of “preparation”, where she now has the desire to take action to address and change her situation, the Red Light team refers her into its Restore phase. Part of this is an out-patient programme which operates alongside Project Exodus, an innovative, ground-breaking strategy which addresses issues of substance dependence and compulsive disorders in ways which provide long-term support through individual and group addiction counselling. Most of the women have a drug addiction, one of the main contributing factors to their choosing to remain sex workers. After a drug and medical assessment is done, the woman is referred to an in-patient detox facility, if necessary, where the programme is strict and structured. The woman is now into the rehabilitation phase. There is no specified amount of time for this process as each individual’s past trauma and needs differ.

Restore Co-ordinator, Gugu Mazwele, described how, for so long, Red Light has had the challenge of finding shelter for survivor sex workers. “Most organisations only accept victims of human-trafficking who have been coerced into forced labour or sexual exploitation. Our dream has always been to have a place of safety for these ladies who need to exit the sex industry but have nowhere to go.” The dream became a reality this year. Red Light’s first Othandweni (” Place of Love”) House opened in June with the support and encouragement of Joyce Meyer Ministries. “We have also partnered with Expose Hope, which has been on the ground for years, running street out-reaches and whose long-term desire is to offer these ladies exit solutions. These partnerships are slowly but surely making a defining change.”

Esther, Release Co-ordinator. talked of the long journey Red Light embarks on with every lady wanting to exit the sex trade: “We have one woman in the safe house who was trafficked under the pretext of gaining employment. She bought the lie and left her home in Nigeria only to be sold to someone in Cape Town to perform sex acts. Not every woman chooses to be a sex worker but often finds she has no other choice.” Esther described how this woman confided in one of her regulars, who then negotiated with her pimp and helped her get out of the industry. Once the woman is ready for the release phase, Esther will be there to assist her with reintegrating into society. “These women are highly talented, each with their own dreams for their future. We teach them skills to help them realise those dreams. Some, usually the younger women, want to finish their Matric and do further study, while others attend short courses and learn how to sew, do make-up and the like,” she said.

The three co-ordinators agree that the journey is never easy for the women and many leave the programme and go back to their old lives, but the programme has changed the lives of many women to date.

If you would like to assist the Red Light Programme with sponsorship, email Esther on release@domino.org.za