Prostitution in New Zealand

“My body is just my body – no one will ever touch my soul” – Trophy Boy.

Prostitution is defined in New Zealand as “the offering by a man or woman of his or her body for purposes amounting to common lewdness for payment”. This act is not illegal, but many aspects of prostitution, such as solicitation or brothel keeping are. Currently there is a bill before Parliament called “The Prostitution Reform Bill”. Debate spoke to three past and current sex workers about their experiences;

  • Trophy Boy* got into the sex industry when he was kicked out of home at age sixteen. He was unable to get any kind of benefit from the government and needed to support himself while he finished his last year of high school.
  • Felicity* is studying health at AUT. She works one shift a week in a massage parlour to support herself until she finishes her degree.
  • Courtney* tried sex work for two nights when she was unemployed, but left the industry because it made her feel awful and she couldn’t look at herself in the mirror anymore.
  • Prostitution is dangerous and often disgusting work. Those who support the bill believe that they cannot stop it from happening, so they aim to improve the lives of sex workers. How would the five aims of the Prostitution Reform Bill change their lives?
    1. To decriminalise prostitution This aim would be addressed by repealing provisions that make prostitution a criminal activity. When he first began hooking (to use his word), Trophy Boy was working the street, cruising cars. He could have easily been arrested for soliciting, illegal under Section 26 of the Summary Offences Act 1981. Such an arrest record could have hurt his chances at legal employment for the rest of his life. The drivers who stopped to offer him $50 per blowjob could not be charged. “If it’s going to be a crime, then they should at least be charged with being an accessory to soliciting. Have it like murder, like, alright, you didn?t actually do it, but you were part of the reason why it happened,” he says.

    Although she works in a massage parlour, Felicity still has to be equally careful about how she acquires clients. “Most massage parlours have a core bar where the clients and the girls hang out, chat and have drinks. When the client decides he wants a go, he pretty much just winks at you, and that’s that”.

    Currently, Felicity’s partner could be sent to jail under Section 148 of the Crimes Act 1961 (living on the earnings of prostitution). “We got to a place where I either had to get a job doing this or we’d have to move in with his parents. I don’t support him completely, but we do rely on my income,” she says.

    2. To safeguard the human rights of sex workers and protect them from exploitation Because sex workers are working illegally, they are not afforded basic protections such as employment contracts. Right now Felicity doesn’t get to choose her clients. “The average client is middle aged, married with kids and they’re grotty. But you can’t really say no to anyone”.

    Her manager is annoyed that she only does one shift a week in order to concentrate on her studies. “I know other AUT students who are working nights, and they’re failing their papers. Their studies suffer from the work because there’s much more likely to be drugs on the night shift. When I thought about getting into the industry, I went and talked to the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) and they said that there was a lot of money to be made in parlours, but that there were some dodgy ones out there. I got a job in a parlour they spoke highly of”.

    Others weren’t so lucky. “In some parlours, the management is really dodgy. You have to get naked for your interview and basically sleep with the boss,” she says. Managers can also penalise workers for being sick or requiring overtime and double shifts. Trophy Boy says that because it’s illegal, many sex workers can’t talk about their exploitation.
    “There’s a cloud of darkness over it, but if you legalise prostitution, it opens the whole situation up so everyone can see it and can look at the problems and try and tackle them. Underworld stuff will always happen, but it’ll cut it right down”.
    3. To promote the welfare and occupational health and safety of the sex workers Even conservatives will acknowledge that prostitution is dangerous work. “It’s hard enough for a female prostitute to say ‘I got raped’ – imagine a male prostitute. I mean, they don’t take male rape seriously anyway,” says Trophy Boy. “I’m really lucky, considering that I’m not a big guy, that I’ve never really been fucked over. The worst that happened was that I had a job in an alleyway giving head, and this tranny decided that I was on her turf, and came up behind me and smacked me over the head. I just bolted”.

    Because he was working illegally, Trophy-Boy could not report the incident. The decriminalisation of prostitution would allow massage parlour operators to be held accountable for the safety of their workers from diseases and violent clients.
    “We had safety buttons by the bed that we were told not to use,” says Courtney of her two nights in the parlour. “That was the only instruction I was given when I started – that and not to let the customers use too many towels”.

    Felicity has also found that the massage-parlour environment is more than a little short in providing training. “I can’t think of how many girls I’ve had to teach about safe sex,” she says. She also found the drug scene very overwhelming when she first started, and realised it was much safer for her to stick to the day shift.

    4. To create an environment which is conductive to public health
    Encouraging safer sex transactions is the reasoning behind this aim. Under present massage parlour legislation, workers have to keep condoms and lubes in their handbags to maintain the ‘massage only’ illusion. “We’re not even allowed rubbish bins,” says Felicity. “Our rooms are furnished with a shower, a plastic mattress covered with a sheet and towels we put down over it, and that’s it.”

    Posters about safer sex and condoms are illegal to display, and have been used as evidence in brothel keeping cases. In Felicity’s parlour, if the working girls (her preferred title) discover a client has an STD, they can notify reception and have that client thrown out, but not every parlour is that on-to-it. Section 201 of the Crimes Act 1961 makes it an offence to willingly infect someone with a disease, but the Massage Parlours Act of 1978 makes no mention of any health obligations. Without legislation in place, it is up to individual sex workers to take responsibility for their own health.
    “Part of the reason I got out of it was when you’re doing it full time, you’ve got to get checked once a month. It’s just a bitch, sitting there for a week going ‘oh my god will I pass my HIV test or not?’ for a whole week, it puts you at the end of your tether” says Trophy Boy.

    However, there was no legislation compelling him to get tested, he was just educated enough to know of the dangers of unsafe sex. “I think everyone should be forced to be checked regularly so that you can be sure that they’re safe”.
    5. To protect children from exploitation in relation to prostitution
    New Zealand is not particularly notable for its child sex scene, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going on. The Herald in particular has focused on girls as young as thirteen working at Hunters Corner in South Auckland. Legalisation of prostitution would bring it out into the open and more under control of the law.
    “I think that I should never have been allowed to have made the choice at age sixteen that I did. No way in hell. At age eighteen or twenty-one or something, it was a very conscious decision on my part, but at age sixteen, they should have been like ‘No! You?re this beautiful young human being and this is the last thing you need’,” says Trophy Boy. “Being sixteen, gay and a boy, it all sort of fell in my favour. I ended up having a sugar daddy for a while, and that was fine. That’s where my name comes from, Trophy Boy because that’s all you are, just something to hang from someone’s arm”.

    Bottom line: would decriminalisation or legalisation actually encourage more people to become prostitutes?
    The NZPC says no, and cites statistics from the Australian Capital Territory that decriminalised prostitution in 1992. The result was that more brothels opened, but they were smaller, and therefore the actual number of sex workers did not rise. “If you’re prepared to prostitute your body, then whether or not you might get arrested really doesn’t come in to it. If you’re prepared to go that far, it’s like, well whoopdie shit, I might get a conviction, like that will stop me,” says Trophy Boy, “if I’m starving, you’re never going to catch me eating out of a bin. Prostitution is a survival instinct. It’s always going to be there, it’s not going to go away no matter what laws you put there, so why make it the worst possible scenario when you could make it the best possible situation. It’s just common sense really.”

    At the same time, there is debate within the sex industry as to whether decriminalisation or legalisation would be the ideal solution.
    “Most working girls are in favour of decriminalisation so that we would still have the power. Legalisation would mean that massage parlours would have to pay fees and some might not be able to afford that. Street workers definitely wouldn’t, and they wouldn?t be able to get jobs in parlours either, so they’d still be working illegally,” says Felicity.
    Admittedly, prostitution is a way to make what may seem like large amounts of money.
    “If you’re on the street, it’s $50 for head, and if you’re doing the works, which I would never do on the street because it’s just too dangerous, you’re looking at about $100, $120. When you’re cracking it through a mobile phone and newspaper, it’s $120 an hour, and when you get good and get a rep, you can command up to $150 an hour,” says Trophy Boy.
    “I do between one and eight jobs a shift, and each job is at least $100,” says Felicity, “Minus the shift fee of $20”.
    In her two nights, Courtney earned $600-700 a night. But it’s not money for nothing.
    “I originally thought that prostitution would be a fun way of making money,” says Felicity. The reality is often very different. “I see a lot of drug addicts, desperate abused women without education for whom it is their only way to make money”. Her partner worked as a driver for another parlour, and pretty much all the girls in that parlour were IV drug users. “I wouldn?t encourage anyone to try it. Most of the girls that I worked with were raped or molested,” says Courtney.
    “The other side of it is that there are a lot of young students, hairdressers and nurses who have a clue and they realise that they can make a lot of money that way doing just one or two shifts a week,” says Felicity.
    “I think you?ve got to be really sensible about it. I see it as a profession, and never give my details out to clients etc. I have always been able to separate things in my life”.
    Trophy Boy echoes her sentiments. “You learn to detach your body from your personality, so it’s not actually emotionally harming in that sense”.

    The Prostitution Law Reform Bill is still being passed through Parliament.
    *Not their real names, obviously.
    (Debate #3 2003)

    One response to “Prostitution in New Zealand”

    1. […] but apart from that, pretty much the same. Ben Hurley was even making jokes about “what if prostitution was legalised?” like it was 2002 or […]

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