Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Outlaw prostitutes

It's worth remembering where the word "outlaw" comes from. An outlaw was someone who was outside of the protection of the law. That wasn't always a happy place to be. Recall that even the Catholic Church of late 13th Century England didn't fare well when outside the law's protection.

When prostitution is outlawed, prostitutes are largely outside the law's protection. Going to the police to report on their customers' offences means turning themselves in at the same time. And so customers come to expect that they can abuse prostitutes, and prostitutes then need pimps to provide protection instead.

New Zealand legalised prostitution a decade ago. It can take a while for local norms to change, but they are changing. The gangs that controlled prostitution prior to legalisation can now be sued; prostitutes know that they have the law's protection.

Christchurch has had an influx of migrant labour for the rebuild. And a lot of these construction workers haven't figured out that prostitutes here have just a bit more power than they might have back home.
Christchurch sex workers say they are being mistreated by migrant workers unfamiliar with New Zealand's prostitution laws.
Prostitutes' Collective regional co-ordinator Anna Reed said street workers had reported incidents of people from "other cultures" treating them rudely, trying to get more for less, being abusive or stealing money afterwards - "assuming that they wouldn't go to the police or tell anyone because they're just ‘common prostitutes'," she said.
"This is in the mindset of some people from some cultures, which we will not name," she said. "It's not that they are flocking but we're certainly noticing them in our stats."
So what's being done about it?
Community and Public Health (CPH) has produced a "man-friendly" pamphlet which outlines New Zealand prostitution laws and where to access health services and advice.
The pamphlet has been distributed to backpackers, accommodation providers, businesses who may be employing migrant or itinerant workers and has a free condom attached.
Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey said the pamphlet was not just about informing migrant workers, but also the wider public about the new locations of health services.
Legalisation hasn't gotten rid of all of the problems. Some workers simply prefer streetwork to being in brothels. And streetwork can cause local nuisance.
CPH is located in Manchester St, where there had also been patch conflict between prostitutes, tension between prostitutes and residents, and "so-called minders" using dogs as weapons. Those matters also needed addressing, Humphrey said.
Licences for street workers - much like those required for busking - could be an option, he said.
If the licences came with a small fee, the Christchurch City Council could hire security guards to monitor the area.
"It would be good for the agencies to think about how this whole industry is kept safe for everyone," he said.
I've read of reasonably serious problems of nuisance and trespass affecting residents, though there's no particular evidence that that's worse than prior to legalisation. There seems no particular reason that street-based sex work shouldn't be subject to whatever regulation generally applies to other street-based vendors.


  1. Or we could licence the clients. Pay a "small fee," sign that you've read the do's-and-don'ts pamphlet you're given, get your laminated card. Caught hiring a sex worker without a licence, go jail.

  2. That really wouldn't work well. Many clients would never want to be "licenced" or otherwise identified. Then we're back to the illicit trade.

  3. What I find interesting is some of the things that are coming out of the Mallory Manning murder case.
    Gangs were apparently "taxing" prostitutes - one would suppose that since prostitution is legal that they would have a recourse to either the police or the law.
    I'm not sure how many complaints were / have been laid though.

  4. Since most of the remaining problem in NZ seems local nuisance issues (condom litter in people's yards, noise, trespass), I wonder whether better policy mightn't just have a couple parks with high hedge fences for workers and clients. Charge a small entry fee for use of the park to cover the costs of groundskeeping.

  5. A couple of comments.

    Prostitution has always been legal here. What was illegal was operating a brothel, pimping and soliciting. In other words, prior to the legislation I could go up to a sex worker and negotiate for some of her trade and that transaction would be lawful. But if the same sex worker were to offer me a list of services when I just happened to be passing by, she would be committing a criminal offence. In other words, a buyer's market so to speak.

    The prohibition against brothels looks extreme but since we had "massage parlours" where everybody knew what went on, that prohibition was used as a threat against brothels to be squeaky clean.

    Now for the Manning case (and there is one unusual aspect which I suspect has been suppressed and so won't discuss here), it is not true that the gangs controlled the prostitutes in Christchurch (they may do so in Vivian Street or K-Road, I really don't know anything about that). The sex workers' testimony is that for a couple of months before Mellory's murder, the Mob *began* taxing prostitutes on Manchester Road (where a former Vice-Chancellor went to have his jollies - too bad he was over the limit in terms of alcohol consumption a few too many times) - it's not the case they were always taxing sex-workers there. And of course once, Mellory was killed, the police undoubtedly put their foot down and people like Fawcett had to leave Christchurch "for personal reasons".

  6. The problem in Christchurch is largely the result of the Quakes. The usual Manchester Street haunts were part of the red zone and so the sex workers had to move from the commercial/industrial section of the street northwards into the residential area. Now that the streets been reopened, it's really just a matter of encouraging the sex-workers to move back but since they are resistant to authority and take drugs, this is easier said than done.

  7. There wasn't gang involvement in prostitution earlier? I'd love a source on that. The article says that the gangs got worse in the couple of months prior to Mellory's murder. What I'd need to know more about is whether the "getting worse" was because individual girls weren't backed by particular protectors any longer and so the gangs moved to this tax regime instead, or whether it was entirely new.

    Agree that sex workers were on Manchester Street long before legalisation. Question is how they related to the police: whether they would have felt comfortable going to the police with complaints about violent or bad customers, or whether they feared they'd be done on a solicitation charge if they did.

  8. I'd expect the Prostitute's Collective would be first port of call in figuring out how to arrange that.

  9. I never said there wasn't gang involvement. I said the Gangs weren't controlling the Manchester Street workers. As for what the article says:

    A sex worker [...] said there was no trouble with gangs on the streets until a couple of months before Mellory Manning was killed.

    Now some gang members may have been acting as security or whatnot but the taxing of the workers is something I've never heard off before (and the local paper used to be full of this sort of detail in the court pages - alas this was in the days before the web).

    As for the sex workers co-operating with the police before legalisation, it happened. The key shift came in I think with the AIDS epidemic. I recall the sex workers were co-operating with the police in order to take some "ugly mugs" (violent clients, noy ungainly providers) off the street in the 90s.

  10. They've already been around talking. The sex-workers are still slow to shift. Thinking about it, the problem may be that the clients are turning up at the new places and not at the old.

  11. We could also ask sex workers what they think might be useful measures to take.

  12. "But surely the nationalist trappings wouldn't be tried if they didn't think customers had latent demand for "Buy Australian"."
    Well, no one ever went wrong by appealing to lazy nationalism. It can't work out any worse than the big two's previous anti-competitive tactic (loss-leading on milk/ bread/ beer).

  13. Where can I read up more on all this? I'd love to know more of the history.


    has some details in a rather dry manner.