Many former prostitutes do not support the full decriminalisation of the sex industry, as a model exemplified by New Zealand (NZ), which was indicated as a possible long term aim in the report. As such the model received comparatively little criticism compared to the Sex Buyer Law, in spite of the wealth of criticism available from many respectable organisations, as has been indicated, including survivor organisation SPACE International. As a former prostitute, not only was I dismayed by the predominate male panel, but by the cautious bias indicated in the report, saliently demonstrated in the insistence upon qualifying the positives for the Sex Buyer Law, whilst being remarkably uncritical of the purported positives of full decriminalisation.
I was also dismayed, hugely, by the paucity of attention noted to the element of the Sex Buyer Law which calls for government funded support services for women exiting, or have exited the sex industry, as in France where almost five million Euros per year is being offered; an amount which although insufficient, represents a starting point. Whichever legal system is in place, it is utterly irrelevant to the needs of prostitutes – who are often forced to return to the industry because of the lack of support in exiting – without adequate exiting services specific to their needs. As a former prostitute and as someone who has recently spent time interviewing women in prostitution and exited women, services that support women who suffer from trauma, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and who wish to escape – should receive access to secular assistance, include temporary emergency housing, refuge, counselling and aid in obtaining social security.
Though I and other survivors would support the decriminalizing of those who sell sex, I would caution emphatically against the decriminalizing of brothel management and profiteering, especially if it enables the existence of large brothels and brothel chains. Unlike some of the women who gave evidence from the perspective of the industry who support the New Zealand model, I have actually worked in a New Zealand brothel. I discussed my experience in a recent article, however to summarize, the long term consequences of the ability of some to operate large brothels include increased competition and decreased charges as the brothels begin to run on a ‘low price/high volume’ basis, which can lead to prostitutes having to see more customers and needing to offer a higher range of, often, more dangerous or uncomfortable sexual activities, such as oral sex without a condom and anal sex.
In theory, the NZ model enables women to refuse customers however there is a very limited number of customers you can refuse before the brothel suggests you find other places to work, and often will insist on you having a ‘good reason’ to refuse any given customer. In practice, in all brothels, women will regularly have sex with customers that they simply do not want to. This has serious implications for laws relating to sexual harassment and coercion in the work place, unless of course, we are to make prostitution a special case.
Added to which, we are supposed to be able to negotiate the services that we are willing to offer, but from my own experience, this often doesn’t work in practice as the brothel managers can apply soft pressures. Indeed it is self policing, as customers simply won’t choose women who try to put up too many ‘boundaries’ as competition is so fierce, and as such women either capitulate to demands or struggle to earn enough money.
Punters feel vindicated in applying pressure and putting the prostitute at greater risk of danger, pain or discomfort, because the industry has been legitimised and they feel they have a right as consumers. The humanity of the women who are rented has always been shaky, but this is further cemented by the mega brothel culture.
I have spoken to Chelsea who currently works in a NZ brothel and has corroborated my story:
My experience at the brothel is that of terrorism. It is a constant battle to uphold even the most minimal personal boundaries such as safer sex practices, like condoms and dental dams and no saliva transference (kissing) and not doing the deed more than once for a guy without being paid more than once. I definitely find it extremely difficult to even get bookings because most of the time I attempt to assert these minimal of boundaries.
She and I are not alone as critics who have experience of the New Zealand model. Sabrinna Valisce, a former campaigner for it, has since changed her position:
I worked pre- and post-law reform. The Prostitution Reform Bill passed into law to become The Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003. The good part of it was that the threat of a criminal record was removed. This would happen under The Nordic Model also. I volunteered at the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), so I was [able to compare our decriminalization] goal … to the results. I, and others who were agitating for decriminalization in New Zealand, we always wanted the power to be placed firmly in the hands of the prostituted person/sex worker. Decriminalization didn’t do that. The power went to the brothel owners, escort agency owners and johns. Immediately following the PRA, the pimps became legitimate businessmen. They introduced “All-Inclusive.” An “All-Inclusive” is a single fee paid by the john to the brothel/escort agency via the receptionist. This means that the prostituted person/ sex worker has no power of negotiation. It also means that the pimp decides her earnings. The pimps gained the power to decide what a “service” would be paid and how much of that belonged to them. They also gained the power to withhold the woman’s earnings or even deny any existence of those earnings. Prior to law reform we negotiated our own money and decided our own services.
I would urge the panel and the government to put more consideration into exit services, and to consider the opinions of those campaigners, who have direct experience of the New Zealand model, who feel extremely strongly that the decriminalisation of brothel keeping and profiteering will further harm women in prostitution, and take what powers of negotiation or assertion they have, away.