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The Positive Effects of Decriminalisation of Sex Work in New Zealand
Dame Catherine Healy
National Co-ordinator, New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective
New Zealand decriminalised sex work for citizens and permanent residents in 2003. It changed the law from a punitive approach that resulted in sex workers and third parties, such as managers, being prosecuted, then fined or jailed, which caused considerable harm. Sex workers led the movement to change the law with support from many, including major women’s organisations and politicians.
Sex workers feel more able to reach out to police for help
The existing law promotes sex workers’ human rights, welfare, occupational health and safety, and protects them from exploitation. It isn’t against the law to pay for sexual services providing the person is over 18.
Sex workers are not required to register specifically with any authority. Tax and other business declarations are confidential, and sex workers can nominate less stigmatising descriptions of their work for formal records.
Sexual health check-ups are not mandatory. Nevertheless, all participants must take reasonable steps to ensure safer sex practices. Health promotion and other sex worker support activities are led by NZPC, a sex worker led organisation that is government funded but independent.
Sex workers can work for themselves, in groups, or with managers in brothels. They can operate from a home business, or meet clients though street based sex work anywhere, and while there is some tension in some neighbourhoods, there is recognition that banning or zoning would fail and cause harm. Explicit advertising is permitted in adult fora.
Decriminalisation means sex work in New Zealand is mostly regulated by the same legislative framework governing all labour and contracts.
The police no longer arrest sex workers and have collaborated with them to co-produce anti-violence resources. Sex workers feel more able to reach out to police for help.
An environment that safeguards sex workers’ right to occupational safety and health
Decriminalising sex work in New Zealand has empowered sex workers to combat exploitation. It has created an environment that safeguards their right to occupational safety and health. Sex workers now have a voice in policy decisions that impact on their sex work in New Zealand.
Executive Director of Valiant Hearts and nationally recognized Survivor Leader in the anti-trafficking movement
Legal prostitution doesn’t make things safer, healthier, or empowering. How do I know? I was trafficked through the legal system of prostitution in Nevada and sold in every avenue of the commercial sex industry across the country for more than a decade.
Stamping prostitution legal does not make trafficking go away
It began at 17 for me. But I was “old.” The average age of entry is much younger because buying sex is a progressive addiction. Buyers want younger, “fresh meat” to fulfill their sick fantasies, but ignore the reality that they’re abusing the most disenfranchised in our society.
While not all prostitution is sex trafficking, for most, it’s exploitation of those with the fewest choices. Stamping prostitution legal does not make trafficking go away. In fact, the opposite is true. The legal system in Nevada has increased the illegal market 63% higher than the next highest state. In Nevada, exploitation is the norm, not the exception.
Legalizing the sex trade means that law enforcement cannot hold brothel owners, pimps, and buyers accountable for the devastating harm they cause. If law enforcement can no longer be involved in prostitution, how can they eradicate sex trafficking? They can’t.
The legal sex trade is wrought with human rights violations. I was forced to sleep in the room I serviced men in. I was compelled to endure brutally long hours and prevented from leaving the premises. Listening devices in rooms existed to monitor women, to catch them stealing or turning down customers, not to keep them safe.
For most ensnared in the legal sex trade, consent doesn’t exist. Why? Because consent cannot be bought. It cannot be bought by a Hollywood producer demanding sex before casting a woman and it can’t be bought when a woman is beaten by a pimp for not having sex with a buyer. If someone has no other options and cannot freely, willingly opt in, consent isn’t present. Lack of options and desperation never equals consent.
Consent cannot be bought
All humans have dignity, value and worth. No person should be bought or sold like a product. Governments that legalize the sex trade are pimps making money off the backs of marginalized people.
If we truly want to end exploitation, there’s another option. The Equality Model decriminalizes people in prostitution, providing exit services. But the model holds pimps, brothel owners and sex-buyers accountable for the devastating harm they cause.
It’s time to support a system that strives to make people #EqualNotExploited.