QotD: “Governments are complicit in the prostitution of women when prostitution is defined as work”

The New Zealand Ministry of Health accepted information about prostitution almost exclusively from the NZPC rather than from less biased sources. The lobbying success of the NZPC in promoting prostitution as work has resulted in passage of a law and also production of a Report (Prostitution Law Review Committee, 2008) intended tosupportthe law. The NZPC offers no programmatic support such as job training or housing advocacy for the large majority of those in prostitution want to escape it. The Report white washes or suppresses evidence that prostitution remains harmful to those in it even after its decriminalization (see the following paragraphs for details regarding the bias of the Report).

Governments are complicit in the prostitution of women when prostitution is defined as work and especially when government revenue is generated by prostitution. For example, the Philippines’ government grants visas to women who are known to be bound to prostitution but who are named “Overseas Performing Artists.” It’s likely that the government assumes that money otherwise not available would be sent home. Extremely poor women who might otherwise demand local jobs that would compete with men were trafficked overseas for prostitution in what Roces (p 14⁎) in this issue accurately describes as the government’s sacrifice of its women for economic gain.

Organized crime is another material reality that is always associated with trafficking for prostitution, yet rarely mentioned in theory. In 2006 Auckland lawyer David Garrett declared decriminalization a “disaster” that had resulted in an “explosion” of children trafficked for prostitution in Auckland and Christchurch as well as three murders of people in prostitution. The trafficking of children in NZ has increased since decriminalization, especially the trafficking of ethnic minority Maori children. A legal pimp who recruited children was arrested and charged in Auckland (Woulfe, 2009). Gangs have waged turf wars over control of prostitution in certain areas in Auckland (Tapaleao, 2009).

Most theories about trafficking fail to address the reality of prostitution’s impact on communities. Since decriminalization, street prostitution has spiraled out of control, especially in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. A 200-400% increase in street prostitution has been reported since prostitution was decriminalized in 2003. Yet the Prostitution Law Review Committee, dominated by the viewpoint that prostitution is a reasonable job for poor women, opined “For people whoseemployment options may be limited, sex work, and particularly street-based sex work, can offer a quick means of achieving financial gains…” (PLRC, 2008:121).

After decriminalization, New Zealand citizens found it difficult to challenge brothels even if they were located near schools or in residential neighborhoods. In response to numerous complaints, the Mayor of Auckland served an abatement notice on a brothel in a residential neighborhood located near a school. Staff at an Auckland agency noted that the numbers of johns in the streets has doubled since decriminalization. Debbie Baker is Manager of Streetreach New Zealand, a support service for people in prostitution that encourages them to leave the sex industry by providing exit strategies. In September 2008, Baker noted adverse effects of New Zealand’s decriminalization of prostitution.

We have also seen a marked increase in men cruising the streets trying to buy sex. Although the numbers vary from day to day, it appears to us that overall, the number of men buyers has doubled since decriminalization. We as a team have been solicited by men while working with our clients on the street. Before decriminalisation this had not happened. These solicitations of the Streetreach staff occurred both in the street and also in massage parlours. The staff at Streetreach believe that the clients of prostitutes who are trying to pick up women have generally become more open and forthright. (Baker in phone interview with Farley 15 September 2008)

Once defined as work, NZ’s decriminalized prostitution law not only encouraged men to buy sex, it transformed prostitution into an acceptable, even attractive job for young, poor women in New Zealand. In one of the Report’s own surveys 25% of those interviewed said that they entered the sex industry because it had been decriminalized (PLRC, 2008:39).

Melissa Farley, 2009, Theory versus reality: Commentary on four articles about trafficking for prostitution

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