Cleaning up the streets

Herald on Sunday Apr 3, 2011

The oldest profession is again in the spotlight as South Auckland businesses seek to rid the streets of prostitutes. It’s nearly midnight on Kolmar Rd, just off Great South Rd in Papatoetoe, a business centre in South Auckland known as Hunters Corner. Or Hookers’ Corner. Riia, 25, is at work. It’s been her workplace off and on for the past five years: “When I’m down and out and really need it,” she explains. Prostitution is not her long-term career plan. She is studying tourism and travel and hopes to get a job at the airport after graduation – to support her 5-year-old daughter. But for the moment, this patch of Kolmar Rd is Riia’s office.

It won’t stay that way if a group of local business owners get their way. They say street walkers have sullied the reputation of their vibrant community and want the hookers off the corner. They are pinning their hopes on the Auckland Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill to make it happen. Manurewa MP George Hawkins introduced the bill to Parliament last September as a local bill that would enable Manukau City Council to ban street prostitution from certain areas of South Auckland. Anyone found soliciting or receiving commercial sexual services in no-go zones would face a fine of $2000. The Local Government and Environment select committee was due to report back on the bill last month. However, with the advent of the Auckland Supercity, that deadline has been extended until September. The bill could survive only with the support of the new Auckland Council. Under the leadership of mayor Len Brown, a Papatoetoe boy, councillors voted to support the bill, a move that broadened its scope to include the whole of Auckland city. From there, it could have a nationwide impact. Opponents of the bill say it will force sex workers underground and undo gains made through the groundbreaking Prostitution Reform Act 2003. That legislation took a health and human rights approach to prostitution, rather than considering it from the moralistic standpoint of the past.