Dominion Post 21 January 2012
It has been nearly nine years since New Zealand decriminalised prostitution under the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. Sex workers say the stigma has eased, but still remains. Safe sex is freely promoted, they have a mandate to stand up to inappropriate behaviour from clients and employers, and whereas in the past they might have felt intimidated and threatened by police, they now work with them. “New Zealand sex workers have the best set of laws. We’ve seen situations where sex workers have taken on brothel operators for sexual harassment and won,” Ms Healy says. “You just couldn’t have imagined that before.” The legislation is a model for other countries to follow, she says.
….But while the law change has resulted in some positive changes, it has also had its downsides. “Prior to the reform, police could just go in to the brothels at any time. Now we can only go in if we’ve obtained a search warrant.” There are still some bad practices, and sex trafficking does occur. “I think it’s naive to think there isn’t or hasn’t been women trafficked through New Zealand,” he says. Without access to brothels, there is no way of knowing which ones are involved, and victims are usually brainwashed and too traumatised to seek help. Mr Beard would like to see mandatory signs for all brothels warning of trafficking and how to seek help, in multiple languages.
While the Government has decriminalised prostitution, it does not morally endorse it in law. A bill tabled by the Manukau City Council before the formation of the Auckland Council also threatens the industry, and is against the spirit of the act, Ms Healy says. The new council has picked up the bill, which proposes to restrict prostitutes from working in certain areas within the city. It is at the parliamentary select committee stage, with a report on it due next month. Sex workers say it would contradict the positive effects the reform has had on the industry. They say there is still work to do to reduce the stigma, and that would be hindered if the bill was passed.