Five years of decriminalised prostitution

It’s been five years since the Prostitution Reform Act decriminalised prostitution in New Zealand. This would, we were told at the time, “issue in a season of open slather and open up a Pandora’s box.”

New Zealand doesn’t seem to have become the Sodom and Gomorrah of the South Pacific, so we’re probably safe from divine retribution for the time being. Once again, the social conservatives have been shown to be false prophets.

Overall, the Prostitution Law Review Committee recently reported that the reforms had little effect on the numbers in the industry, and “some improvement” in employment conditions. “But this is by no means universal”. Likewise, the Prostitutes’ Collective says that the industry has been working quite well, but has some concerns about brothel keepers’ compliance with the law. Some brothel owners need to adopt better health and safety practices, they say.

Before the reform, the illicit nature of the work saw sex workers exposed to expoitative and coercive behaviour by pimps and the like. The improvements in working conditions for these workers are to be applauded. But there is clearly more work to be done.

The Law Review Committee recommended in its report that, “the sex industry, with the help of the Department of Labour and others, moves towards written, best-practice employment contracts … becoming standard for sex workers working in brothels.” It also called for funding for regular Ministry of Health inspections of brothels and to support services by non-government organisations, including assistance with exiting for those who wanted to quit sex work.

On the whole, those who supported the reform should feel proud. Those who opposed it, claiming to be concerned for the well-being of the prostitutes, might like to reflect on the error of their ways.

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4 Responses to “Five years of decriminalised prostitution”

  1. MacDoctor Says:

    Illegal activities are, by their very nature, dangerous to those who practise them. I cannot see the logic behind the argument “This illegal activity is dangerous – let’s legalize it so we can make it less dangerous”. That make as much sense as “drug pushing is dangerous – let’s legalize it” and “robbing gun shops armed with a machete is dangerous – let’s legalize that too!”

    The fact that numbers of prostitutes have not increased just demonstrates how risky and unpleasant this “career” is. I see prostitutes in the emergency department all the time. They are at risk for serious STDs and physical abuse. I have yet to meet one who does not want an alternative to prostitution. Unfortunately, there are very few alternatives that pay anywhere near the amount they earn in prostitution.

    So I don’t think that this law is anything to celebrate. I’m happy that these women have a slightly better lot in life, but I don’t think that much has changed for them. What really needed to be done was to make use of a prostitute illegal – removing their clients – and then putting some real money into finding alternatives for these women.

  2. jafapete Says:

    MacDoc,
    I think that there is a very good argument for making hard drugs legal, on the very pragmatic grounds that experience elsewhere shows that the damage is lessened. The idea that making something illegal is always the best course of action is fallacious. They tried that with alcohol in the USA.

    When many activities are legalised it is easier to regulate, and to mend things afterwards. There is still work to be done in the prostitution industry, but we have a much better chance of improving conditions for the sex workers than would have been the case with the existing criminal regime (pun intended). In the first instance, surely the issue is not whether you see prostitutes who are victims of abuse and STDs, but how many and whether things are improving.

    Armed robery is different: people don’t generally get to choose whether they are robbed.

    As long as there is a demand for the work, I’ll try to avoid being paternalistic and support the option that is best for the sex workers themselves. The Review Committee’s suggestion that those wishing to exit be supported also seems good, as it lessens the chances that people are forced to work in the industry. In the long term I’d like to see prostitution disappear altogether. That’s why I support a government that promotes economic and social justice.

  3. Sconehead Says:

    I’ve often wondered why prostitution is called an industry, surely it’s a service? Unless one thinks of industrial-strength sex which I suppose is what one gets from a prostitute.

    Anyway, it’s just plain wrong. Yes, sorry to use a quaint term like wrong but that’s what it is, no matter what you dress it up as (sorry).

    So any moves to decriminalise (blimey what sort of weasel word is that?) it, make it safer or more respectable are at best misguided or at worst criminal acts themselves.

  4. mollycule Says:

    I just stumbled across this after some random clicking and woah, I didn’t know so many people were against prostitutes . . . I’m no expert here, but as far as I can tell prostitution is legal in brothels here in Victoria and seemingly well-regulated (streetwalking I believe is still illegal). Heck, we’ve even got a brothel listed on the stock exchange. Illegal brothels being shut down and prosecution against those people trafficking for the sex industry make frequent headlines and those I knew at uni working in the sex industry were normal, incredibly switched-on women who knew what they were doing and resented the stigma attached to them. Sure, they didn’t like the work any more than I like my sucky data entry job, but they were making incredible money, paying their way through a tertiary education and chose to do what they were doing. And what of the women that specialise in sexual services for the disabled? They’re often specially trained, incredibly compassionate and can bring a smile to a guy’s face who’s body is drastically atrophying and is not expect to live past 25. Why should they be criminals? Not every prostitute is an abused junkie looking for her next fix/meal/petrol money.

    I don’t know how things work in New Zealand, but your commenters’ arguments don’t seem to make much sense. Anything that can make that work safer and can protect the vulnerable, the abused and those taken advantage of should be encouraged. Treating women who willingly and knowingly choose to provide sexual services as less than human, as victims, and/or as criminals won’t solve anything.

    One of the chicks from the band Machine Gun Fellatio was involved in a campaign saying “Be Nice to Prostitutes” – as she pointed out, they could be your friend, your sister, your aunt, your cousin, the girl next to you on the bus, in front of you in the cinema, walking her dog in the same park as you . . . and you probably would never know.

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