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The history of the policing of sex work in South Africa reveals the surprisingly contradictory manners that legal regulations, police action, and public discourses have all “policed” sex work to meet competing goals. Sex work has generally been subject to formal state policing in the form of legal regulations and laws, which mostly focus on the public nuisance aspects of it. However, there has also been a more informal policing of sex work through public discourses in the media, medical community, and amongst activists. These various forms of policing are at times contradictory, and may result in various approaches toward sex work, which are at odds with each other. It is thus important that these various forms of policing be considered to ensure that the official policies on sex work match the actual practices of how sex work is policed. The actual criminalization of sex work is not as significant as the everyday policing practices, which often belie de jure criminalization, and are instead informed by these larger informal discourses.