NZ’s approach to sex work under fire

Newsroom NZ 21 November 2017
Family First Comment: “… supporters of outright abolition, argue that reform has worsened the relationship with the police, many of whom are wilfully ignorant of issues of consent in the sex industry and turn a blind eye to its violence. Worse still, the law entrenches other aspects of patriarchal power by legitimising a sexist industry. The balance of power has shifted from sex workers to brothel owners; what was once viewed as sexual violence is now viewed as a mere ‘occupational hazard’.” 

A new book by British journalist and academic Julie Bindel has taken aim at New Zealand’s landmark Prostitution Reform Act (PRA), accusing it of further entrenching a culture of violence against women and failing, at the most basic level, to fulfil its primary function: to improve the lives of sex workers.

In 2003, New Zealand became the first country in the world to fully decriminalise both the selling and, controversially, the buying of sex. Prostitution was not fully legalised — migrant workers were prohibited from working in the trade and certain aspects of sex work were specifically regulated, like the compulsory use of condoms, but the PRA went further than any other country by legalising most aspects of the industry.

Decriminalisation, in the words of the act’s sponsor, then-Labour MP Tim Barnett, accepts the ‘inevitability of prostitution’ and, through practical and enforceable regulation, works to “minimise a specific harm”.

Supporters argued that it would raise the safety of sex work and the standard of brothels by taking them out of the ambit of gangs and drug lords, whilst extending to sex workers health and safety benefits in line with New Zealand’s existing employment laws.

The ambition of the law was that sex workers could work more safely in groups or with professional managers in brothels. Should something go wrong, sex workers should feel more empowered to go to the police or colleagues without fear of incriminating themselves.

Bindel, and fellow supporters of outright abolition, argue that reform has worsened the relationship with the police, many of whom are wilfully ignorant of issues of consent in the sex industry and turn a blind eye to its violence. Worse still, the law entrenches other aspects of patriarchal power by legitimising a sexist industry.

The balance of power has shifted from sex workers to brothel owners; what was once viewed as sexual violence is now viewed as a mere ‘occupational hazard’. Bindel cites a government review of the PRA undertaken by the Prostitution Law Review Committee in 2008, which found that most sex workers believe that decriminalisation ‘could do little about the violence that occurred’ in the industry.

…..Alternatives to decriminalisation
The most popular alternative to the New Zealand model, and the model advocated by Bindel, is the Swedish (or Nordic) model, which decriminalises the selling of sex, thereby protecting sex workers, but criminalises the purchase of sex.

Based on Sweden’s ‘Kvinnofrid’ law, versions of which have since spread to a number of Nordic countries, it takes as its basic premise that prostitution is sexist and therefore incompatible with Sweden’s goal of eradicating gender inequality. The argument goes that women enter the industry because of poverty, drugs or trafficking and that the state should at once try and reduce the harm to sex workers themselves, whilst also working to stamp out the industry altogether.

New Zealand studies, like that undertaken by Abel, Fitzgerald, and Brunton broadly line up with this view of entering sex work. Most begin sex work for financial reasons (73 percent of respondents needed money to pay for household expenses).
READ MORE: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2017/11/21/62355/nzs-approach-to-sex-work-under-fire

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