Friday, July 16, 2004

prostitution laws and sex on the street

I think people seem to have got the wrong idea about the Prostitution Law Reform Act. It was not supposed to legalise prostitution or get rid of street prostitutes. It was to decriminalise prostitution and make sex work safer within the prostitution industry - ie in brothels.

The Act does not touch on street prostitution, including those aged 17 or younger, apart from saying that soliciting is still illegal for those under 18. The idea was that street workers 18 and over will feel safer working in parlours and get off the street. Apparently parlours are safer places, but out on the streets those 18 and over are competing with the kids who are both younger and are selling their bodies for less. Street prostitution has increased in some areas as more and more younger kids are getting into it.

Now that the Act is passed, and has been for a year, people cannot come to New Zealand specifically to work as sex workers or brothel operators. People under 18 are prohibited from becoming sex workers in brothels, but. operators licenses are required for brothels employing four or more people at a time. All licenses had to be obtained by 28 June and to my knowledge, the number of brothels have not increased.

But the number of street workers have apparently, and the Prostitution Reform Act does not touch on this. Nothing is stopping young teenagers from working on the streets or in private homes - including those aged under the age of consent. Mind you, nothing stopped them before the Act was passed either.

However, now that local councils are monitoring the industry, they can ban offensive signage and can control where brothels can be. What they can't do is wipe street prostitution or control one-person operators. And that is the problem. This Act does not extend to those who are the most vulnerable, and it was not the intention to do so either. All councils can do is state where street prostitution cannot be offered - such as in close proximity to schools and churches. Some nave tried to ban prostitution altogether.

Some councils are attempting to permit sex workers in residential areas - like Hamilton for example. One potential candidate for Hamilton City Council has taken out an advertisement accusing six councillors of "lowering" community standards with a proposed prostitution bylaw allowing sex workers to work in private homes. It included photographs of the six councillors who last month supported a draft bylaw which allows "private sex worker residences" and includes the headline: "When a brothel opens next to your family home, blame these six people".

The Manukau City Council attempted to ban sex workers from the street but backtracked after legal advice stating that the move may contravene the Bill of Rights and the Prostitution Reform Act, as soliciting is now permissible.

United Future wants to repeal the Act, but they haven't said how that would assist prostitutes in brothels who will no longer be covered by employment contracts or heath and safety legislation, nor what they`d do about sex on the street. What repeal of the legislation will probably do is lower the safety standards of brothel work, and bring back soliciting, pimping and illegal brothel-keeping.

What is actually needed is laws to clean up the streets of child sex workers and to regulate others on the street. The Government should be providing more support to the councils to do it, not just hand it to them to clean up the mess.

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