23 May, 2008
Act helps health and safety of sex workers, report says
Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel today welcomed a report which shows the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) 2003 has had a positive effect on the health and safety of sex workers and has not led to a predicted increase in their numbers.
The Prostitution Law Reform Committee, chaired by former Police Assistant Commissioner Paul Fitzharris, was asked to report within five years of the decriminalisation of prostitution to assess the impact of the law change on the human rights, welfare, and occupational health and safety of sex workers, and the ban on the use of young people in prostitution.
Lianne Dalziel thanked the Committee for its work and said the report was valuable in putting balance and evidence into the debate around the decriminalisation of prostitution.
"The report indicates that the numbers have remained more or less the same since the Act came into force and that most sex workers are better off under the PRA than they were previously, which was the intention of the Act.
"There's no evidence of increased numbers of people being used in underage prostitution. In fact, the PRA has raised awareness of the problem," Lianne Dalziel said.
"The PRA has had a marked effect in safeguarding the rights of sex workers. Removing the taint of illegality has empowered sex workers by reducing the opportunity for coercion and exploitation."
The report says many of the perceptions held about the sex industry are based on stereotypes and a lack of information.
Lianne Dalziel said the report shatters several myths with the following findings:
- Coercion is not widespread.
- Sex workers are more likely to be the victims of crime, rather than offenders.
- The links between crime and prostitution are tenuous and the report found no evidence of a specific link between them. The link between under-aged prostitutes and youth gangs is often a case of underage people hanging around with friends who happen to be in youth gangs.
- The reasons people joined and stayed in the sex industry are complex, however money was the main reason.
- Fewer than 17 per cent said they are working to support drug or alcohol use, although when broken down by sector street-based sex workers are more likely to report needing to pay for drugs or alcohol (45 per cent).
- The perceived scale of a 'problem' in a community can be directly linked to the amount and tone of media coverage it gets.
Much of the reporting on the numbers of sex workers and underage involvement in prostitution has been exaggerated.
There is no link in New Zealand between the sex industry and human trafficking.
Lianne Dalziel said the government would consider the report's recommendations. The Committee doesn't think any further review of the operation of the PRA is necessary until 2018, 15 years after its enactment.
The other committee members are: Catherine Hannan, a Sister of Compassion; Debbie Baker of Streetreach, a confidential support service for those involved in prostitution; Matt Soeberg who has a background in public health policy; Sue Piper, a former Wellington City Councillor and chair of the Local Government Commission; Karen Ritchie, of the New Zealand Aids Foundation; Mary Brennan, a sexuality consultant and former brothel manager; Dr Sue Crengle, a specialist in General Practice and in Public Health Medicine; Catherine Healy, the National Coordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective; Lisa Waimarie, representing the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective; Dr Jan Jordan, a senior lecturer in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington; and two former members: Alan Bell and Susan Martin, both who represented ECPAT NZ, a community organisation that works to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The report is available on the Ministry of Justice website: www.justice.govt.nz