Outlaw prostitutes

By Eric Crampton 13/02/2014


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.