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Decriminalise sex work to prevent trafficking and abuse

The committee released its review on time in 2008. It found that the number of sex workers had not increased and that most sex workers were better off following decriminalisation. Another study noted that “The most commonly observed impact [of the PRA] was an improved sense of well-being in sex workers, attributed to their new rights and to the fact that sex work was no longer deemed ‘criminal’.”

Sex workers are now less tolerant of poor working conditions and expect safe environments that will uphold their rights. They expect the justice system to safeguard these labour and human rights. Successful prosecutions have taken place against those who seek to harm sex workers, such as violent offenders or brothel operators who have sexually harassed sex workers.

The police and sex workers have, in many parts of the country, developed productive relationships that focus on the prevention of exploitation and violence. This is an enormous change from the mutual suspicion and threat of prosecution that existed prior to decriminalisation. In 2018, NZPC and the police even co-authored a booklet to assist potential victims of sexual assault.

In 2013, an organisation calling themselves Freedom from Sexual Exploitation petitioned the New Zealand Parliament to once against change its stance on sex work, this time to “legislate for … a law which makes the purchase of sexual services illegal.”

NZPC vehemently opposed the petition, arguing that it would “cause major harm to and seriously undermine the occupational safety and health of all sex workers”. The NZPC noted that they are able to assist all sex workers, including those who want to change work. They further noted the ability of clients who were concerned about potential human trafficking to contact them and/or the police, a practice which would cease if clients faced prosecution. The PRA had also increased awareness of brothel operator obligations, making brothel operators more diligent about anti-trafficking measures such as ensuring sex workers were over the age of eighteen. The Justice and Electoral Committee dismissed the petition, grounding its decision in part in NZPC’s observations and the evidence of the 2008 report.

New Zealand still has further steps to take to achieve full decriminalisation, particularly in the area of migrant sex workers. Section 19 of the PRA makes it illegal for holders of temporary residency visas to work as sex workers. There is more work to do to make sure all sex workers have equal rights and protection.


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