Below are two articles I spotted recently on poverty in New Zealand. I think it is useful to point this out, as sex industry advocates want us to think that prostitution is ‘necessary’ because of women’s poverty, and that prostitution somehow ‘cures’ women’s poverty (if that were true there would be no poverty by now).
If prostitution was such a great way to make money, wouldn’t all poor women do it? The reality is that prostitution is most profitable for the pimps and brothel keepers, and a very small number of young, conventionally attractive, relatively privileged women, for a short time only; other women end up there out of desperation, deeper desperation, it seems, than having to rent a garage to live in.
Schoolgirls in New Zealand are skipping class because they cannot afford sanitary pads and are being forced to use phonebooks, newspapers and rags to make-do during menstruation.
In the last three months local charity KidsCan distributed 4,000 sanitary items to more than 500 low-income schools nationwide after they were given a NZ$25,000 (USD$18,000) government grant to begin to address the issue.
Because KidsCan buy in bulk, they are able to purchase packs of sanitary products for around NZ$1 – instead of the NZ$4-8 that supermarkets usually charge. Sanitary products are taxed in New Zealand.
Vaughan Couillault, principal of Papatoetoe high school in south Auckland, said it was a “serious concern” that many of his 700 female students from lower socio-economic backgrounds could not afford the products to manage their monthly cycle hygienically.
This year KidsCan started supplying the school with sanitary items, but before that his staff would make regular trips to the supermarket to buy sanitary supplies, and charge female students 50 cents to cover costs. According to Couillault, at other low-income schools in New Zealand teachers buy students sanitary products using their own money.
Sarah Kull, a school nurse at Papatoetoe, said since the 50 cent charge was removed the number of students approaching her for sanitary products had increased to around 10-15 pupils each day. Half of them needed one-off items and half were stocking up to cater for their entire period.
“There is a shame factor involved in asking for help with such an intimate part of your life, and I think the girls we see approaching us are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kull.
“A lot of girls are too embarrassed to ask. We also have about the same number each day come to us for pain relief related to their periods. Paracetamol is cheaper than pads but there is still a cost involved, which for many students from low-income families is unmanageable.”
Labour MP Louisa Wall is spear-heading the campaign to draw attention to school-age girls who can’t afford the average NZ$5-15 (USD$3-10) a month for sanitary items. She has also been told of women in hospital who have been unable to access sanitary items, and that many female university students struggle to pay to cover their periods.
“Local schools started coming to me and saying: ‘We need help with this’. Girls are skipping class and sports because they can’t afford the sanitary items that make their periods a normal part of life,” she said.
“This issue is still taboo and we really need to start addressing it because sanitary items are not a luxury – they are a basic necessity. Not being able to afford them is holding many girls and women back, and I am especially concerned about them missing out on education because of their periods.”
Should we consider schoolgirls in New Zealand to be at a disadvantage compared to the girls in various African countries, were ‘dating’ a ‘sugar daddy’ in return for money for basic essentials like sanitary pads is ‘normal’ (remember, ‘normal’ here doesn’t mean ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’, it just means commonplace and unremarkable)? Are these schoolgirls being ‘oppressed’ by the age limit of 18 to enter the sex industry? Remember, sex industry advocates are pushing for the decriminalisation of the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well (this is something I want to write about in more detail, I have seen a sex industry advocate use the rationalisation that ‘children are poor too’).
Hundreds of families in Auckland are living in cars, garages and even a shipping container as a housing crisis fuelled by rising property prices forces low-income workers out of private rental accommodation.
Charity groups have warned that, as the southern hemisphere winter approaches, most of the premises have no electricity, sewage or cooking facilities.
“This is not people who haven’t been trying. They have been trying very hard and still they’re failing,” said Campbell Roberts of The Salvation Army, who has worked in South Auckland for 25 years.
“A few years ago people in this situation were largely unemployed or on very low-incomes. But consistently now we are finding people coming to us who are in work, and have their life together in other ways, but housing is alluding them.”
Auckland’s housing market is one of the most expensive in the world, with property prices increasing 77.5% over the last five years (this growth has now slowed), and the average house price fetching over NZ$940,000 (£440,000), according to CoreLogic, New Zealand.
Combined with low interest rates, rising migration, near full occupancy of state housing in South Auckland, and minimal wage rises, the pressure on many low to middle income earners has become too much to bear.
Some families are now forced to choose between having a permanent roof over their heads, or feeding themselves and their children.
Jenny Salesa, a Labour MP in the South Auckland suburb of Otara, says Maori and Pacific peoples are overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of Auckland’s housing crisis, and she has people coming to her office every day begging for help.
“People are living in garages with ten family members and paying close to NZ$400 for the privilege,” said Salesa.
“People are ashamed their lives have come to this, and they try to hide. But you can tell which garages are occupied – there are curtains on the windows, small attempts to make it a home. And on the weekends, in the park, there can be up to fifty cars grouped together, with people sleeping in them.”
Salesa estimates nearly 50% of people asking for her help in finding a home are in paid employment, and many families have two parents working and are still unable to make ends meet.
Nobody knows exactly how many people are living rough in Auckland, but common estimates range in the hundreds.
Darryl Evans, CEO of Mangere Budgeting in South Auckland, says on some roads in South Auckland every second house has additional accommodation erected – be it an occupied garage, a portable cabin with a chemical toilet, or tents pitched on the front and back lawn.
“Up until a few years ago, a family member might let you camp in the garage at no cost, as a temporary set-up,” said Evans.
“But now landlords have cottoned on to how desperate people are, and are renting out garages or Portakabins for hundreds of dollars. Our food bank – every food bank in Auckland – is under the most pressure its ever been.”
Evans has also seen many families get trapped in a cycle of a gradual migration south, chasing cheaper rents, but causing huge unrest for children, who are unable to access regular schooling, health care or social support networks.
“People living in these situations are feeling huge shame,” said Evans.
Last week the New Zealand government announced NZ$41.1m for emergency housing, but with winter mere weeks away, charities believe any assistance will come too late for most.
“We warned the government six or seven years ago that a housing crisis was looming,” said Roberts.
“Successive governments have ignored our warnings, and now look where we are. The worst homelessness I have seen in 25 years. You might be able to survive like this in the summer, but you can’t in winter. You just can’t live like this in a New Zealand winter.”
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.
Yet again the males on the left have let women down, while kidding themselves that they are being progressive. Jeremy Corbyn has said, during a talk at Goldsmiths University, that he is in favour of decriminalising the sex trade. “Let’s do things a bit differently and in a more civilised way,” he said.
But there is nothing civilised about legitimising one of the most exploitative industries on the planet.
It is apt that Corbyn made his admission at Goldsmiths. Any feminist in support of criminalising sex-buyers is instantly accused by members of Goldsmiths’ feminist society of hating prostituted women, or “whorephobia”, as it is known. This twist of logic is quite something considering the law that criminalises demand also decriminalises those selling sex.
I cannot believe that Corbyn is so misinformed as to see the blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade as necessary to uphold the human rights and safety of those selling sex. In Sweden, the first country to introduce the sex-buyer law in 1999, not one prostituted woman has been murdered by a pimp or sex-buyer since then. In New Zealand, where the sex trade was decriminalised in 2003, there have been five murders.
What decriminalisation actually means is that control is taken away from the criminal justice agencies and given to local authorities. Under this model, pimps become managers, and brothel owners are business entrepreneurs.
The only difference between decriminalisation and legalisation is that under legalisation the state becomes the official pimp by making certain aspects of the trade legal. This way it can collect taxes and impose compulsory health checks on prostituted women – something the great feminist abolitionist Josephine Butler campaigned against in the 19th century.
Many on the left believe any criminalisation of the industry stigmatises those who sell sex, and that the selling of sex should be regarded as a job like any other. But there is a growing body of research showing that in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Nevada and the Netherlands, where prostitution has been legalised or decriminalised, there is an increase in demand, which in turn has led to an increase in people coerced into prostitution. Such regimes lead to an increase in the legal as well as the illegal sex trade.
In researching my forthcoming book on the international sex trade, I have spoken to a number of women currently and formerly involved in the sex trade in New Zealand, the country hailed as nirvana since the disaster of legalisation in Holland became public.
One interviewee began working in a New Zealand brothel just after she turned 18, prior to decriminalisation. I asked her what decriminalisation had changed. “I don’t think it made any difference,” she said, “because the boss still does everything really dodgy, and I think that’s how he did it when it was illegal.”
The idea that pimps and other exploiters would suddenly turn into considerate employers who pay taxes and abide by the law simply because they are no longer technically criminals is ridiculous.
The sex workers’ rights lobby that has targeted Labour with its propaganda on the benefits of decriminalisation minimises and denies harm. The only harm it is prepared to acknowledge is caused, according to this logic, by feminists and police officers.
One sex workers’ rights activist recently claimed in her blog: “No sex worker I know reports clients as being the biggest problem … It’s always the rescuers, the police and the state that do them the most harm.”
What utter rubbish. While police brutality is prevalent towards women in prostitution in a number of countries, the rapes, homicides and violence from pimps and punters is well documented. In the UK alone, there have been 153 murders of prostituted women since 1990 – none committed by feminist abolitionists or police.
Why the left supports the rights of pimps and brothel owners is a mystery. It is akin to supporting tobacco industry profiteers in order to destigmatise smokers.
Corbyn and his colleagues would do well to listen to survivors of the sex trade before taking such an uninformed line on the best way to regulate prostitution.
As Rachel Moran, sex trade survivor and author of Paid For, remarked: “Males of the left defy every principle they purport to stand for when they contort their own political values to view women’s bodies as commercial products subject to purchase in free market economics. No other social group is treated this way by the men of the left.
“It is only women who are deemed so worthless as to be denigrated with this indignity, and it is only women whose equal human status is so unthinkable as to motivate them to turn their backs on their own politics.”
Over the weekend, Emily Bazelon, a staff writer at the New York Times, published an article called “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” What she didn’t say was that she had already answered her own question, and that she chose to distort (or outright ignore) facts and interviews in order to push a narrative in support of full decriminalization, under the guise of neutral reporting.
Her bias becomes clear early on to anyone who is familiar with the politically loaded term, “sex work,” which she adopts uncritically, claiming this is “the term activists prefer.” While Bazelon admits that most of those who speak publicly as “sex workers” are white and very privileged in comparison to most women in the industry, she doesn’t challenge the language.
The piece centered itself around Amnesty International’s recent decision to adopt a policy supporting the decriminalization of pimps and johns. Due to the choice of organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW), World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and Amnesty International to advocate for the legalization of prostitution, Bazelon is able to claim this as the “human rights” approach to prostitution legislation, without acknowledging the unethical ways these organizations came to this advocacy, the hypocrisy of this position, and without fairly representing the opposition. In fact, defining decriminalization as the “human rights argument” is a distortion tactic itself as, by comparison, those who oppose the legalization of the industry are positioned as not being onside with human rights goals. In truth, prostitution itself is defined as “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” by the UN, meaning that organizations like Amnesty International and HRW defy their own mission statements, core values, and responsibilities by advocating for a system that accepts and normalizes prostitution.
Bazelon claims that “sex work” activists are “fighting the legal status quo, social mores, and also mainstream feminism,” leading me to wonder who and what, exactly, Bazelon believes “mainstream feminism” is…
Feminism is a radical movement that fights a system of oppression called “patriarchy,” so to call it “mainstream” is strange, in and of itself. But I myself have, admittedly, used the term from time to time, in reference to the large, mainstream, liberal publications that promote a version of “feminism” that is pro-capitalist, pro-objectification, pro-sex industry, and that fail to challenge male power at its root. This is to say that, when I have used the term “mainstream feminism,” (which I have, in the past, used interchangeably with other terms such as “Playboy feminism,” “liberal feminism,” and “corporate feminism”) I don’t mean “feminism” at all. My perspective is that feminism is not, as celebrities like Matt McGorry and corporate beauty magazines like Cosmo and Glamour claim, a thing that happens any time a woman makes a choice about anything at all, nor is it something that is not specifically about “women’s liberation” but rather about “gender equality,” nor is it something that must necessarily be inclusive of men. No. Feminism is a movement that is focused on ending the oppression of women under patriarchy and on ending the male violence women are subjected to within that system.
That Bazelon positions those fighting for men’s right to legally buy and sell women as “fighting mainstream feminism” confirms either ignorance with regard to what the feminist movement actually is or a strong bias.
But Bazelon not only doesn’t acknowledge a bias, but denies one, saying in a video conversation posted to Facebook shortly after the article was published, “Six months ago, I really knew almost nothing about this topic.”
This claim is hard to believe, even without considering the perspective put forth in the piece, which left out testimonies from survivors, distorted quotes from abolitionists, presenting them as out-of-touch conservatives, irrational ideologues, and misogynists, and provided false information about both the Nordic model and decriminalization.
In one case, Bazelon writes, “Melissa Farley, a psychologist who received Bush funds, wrote in 2000 in the journal Women and Criminal Justice that any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically — ‘enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature.’” The actual argument from “Prostitution: a critical review of the medical and social sciences literature” reads:
“Pornography, for example, is a form of cultural propaganda which reifies the notion that women are prostitutes. One [john] said ‘I am a firm believer that all women… are prostitutes at one time or another’ (Hite, 1981, page 760). To the extent that any woman is assumed to have freely chosen prostitution, then it follows that enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature, that is to say, she is a prostitute (Dworkin, 1981).”
The argument being referenced here is Dworkin’s, which says that normalizing prostitution or saying that women freely choose to work in the sex industry because they “enjoy it” leads to the conclusion that women, in fact, enjoy being dominated and raped, as this is what we see both in porn and in prostitution.
Likewise, Farley does not argue that she believes women enjoy rape and domination, but that buyers (johns) believe this and that men who buy sex have antiquated, sexist notions about gender and accept male sexual aggression and entitlement as “natural.”
For Bazelon to read all that and then to rewrite Farley’s words, framing her argument as one that says “any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically” and that “enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature” is deeply disturbing in its overt dishonesty.
While Bazelon centered her piece around the perspectives of those who support a legalized sex industry, she intentionally left out stories of survivors who would have disrupted the chosen narrative for her story. A woman named Sabrinna Valisce who was involved in the sex trade in New Zealand on and off for many years, both before and after decriminalization, told me she spoke with Balezon for the piece, but that her interview was cut. Valisce was a volunteer with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) until about two years ago and had advocated for full decriminalization until she experienced its results firsthand.
While the Prostitution Reform Act was meant to make the industry safer for women in it and enforce safe sex practices, it’s done the opposite, Valisce says. Women were suddenly expected to engage in “passionate” kissing and oral sex without protection (called “NBJ” or “Natural Blow Job”) — things that had previously been viewed as “a betrayal of the sisterhood” and internally policed by the prostituted women themselves. “All that has gone by the wayside [due to] high competition and lowered rates,” Valisce says. “Girls are also now expected to let men cum as many times as they can within the booked time. It was never that way before. They paid once and received one service.” Under decriminalization, Valisce’s efforts to institute exiting programs were rejected full out.
Not only that, but a kind of routine violence was normalized by johns. “I’m not talking about punching and beating… [though this still does happen] I’m talking more about the everyday violence of gagging, throttling, spanking, hair pulling, rough handling, and hard pounding.” Valisce says there has been a notable rise in men’s sense of entitlement and a normalization of abuse since the new law came into effect.
Just weeks after decriminalization was implemented, Valisce says just about every brothel in the country rolled out what they called “all-inclusives.” This meant, she told me, “that women couldn’t negotiate their own fees or services, nor could they decide what their boundaries were.” The reason she had supported decriminalization, Valisce said, was because she wanted “the power in the hands of the people who work in prostitution” and to ensure that women weren’t getting arrested or ending up with criminal records. She was told that decriminalization was the only way to go.
Her goals remained the same, but she realized the only way to address the problems she was seeing under decriminalization was through the Nordic model.
Regardless of the real effects of decriminalization and contradictory testimony from survivors, Bazelon parrots Amnesty’s claim that legislation in New Zealand and Australia places “greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organize in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments.”
When I spoke to her over Skype, Valisce said she had told Bazelon that she had worked alongside trafficked women post-decriminalization. Trafficking was hard to track, as it had been rebranded as “sex worker recruitment,” but it still went on. Nonetheless, Bazelon reported that “the New Zealand government has found no evidence that sex workers are being trafficked,” and left it at that. Bazelon’s desire to paint a rosy picture of decriminalization in New Zealand seems to have led her to expunge Valisce’s testimony from the record, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she was the only person Bazelon interviewed who had worked under decriminalization in New Zealand.
“The things she’s said about decriminalization in New Zealand are absolute falsehood,” Valisce said.
Everything Valisce told me, she also told Bazelon. Which makes her statements about New Zealand and the benefits of decriminalization all the more shocking, and Bazelon’s choice to leave Valisce’s testimony out of the story all the more telling.
Investigations into human trafficking in New Zealand have found no concrete evidence it was happening, the immigration minister says.
The US State Department Trafficking in Persons 2014 Report, released today, said foreign men and women were subject to forced labour and sex trafficking in New Zealand, but the government had not prosecuted any trafficking cases in the last eight years.
The report criticised New Zealand’s lack of a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, and recommended New Zealand’s legal framework be expanded to prohibit and punishr all forms of human trafficking.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said New Zealand took a strong stance on trafficking, and did have stringent and comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, with penalties comparable to those for homicide or rape, reflecting the seriousness of the crime.
New legislation was “in the pipeline” to enable further action to be taken should evidence of trafficking emerge, Woodhouse said.
The report referred to forced labour aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels in New Zealand, “including through debt bondage, confiscation of passports, underpayment of wages, imposition of significant debts, poor living and working conditions, and physical and sexual abuse.”
Asian and Pacific Islanders migrating to New Zealand to work in agriculture, horticulture and hospitality sectors were also subject to forced labour – often charged excessive recruitment fees, experiencing unjustified salary deductions, and having their passports confiscated and contracts altered.
Migrants forced to work in job conditions different to what they were promised felt they could not complain for fear of losing their temporary work visas.
A number of children within the country, often of Maori or Pacific Islander descent, were subjected to street prostitution, with some recruited by other girls or compelled by family members into child prostitution, the report said.
Foreign women from China and South-East Asia could also be at risk of coerced or forced prostitution in New Zealand.
Woodhouse said all allegations of human trafficking were investigated, but none had resulted in substantiated evidence of people trafficking.
The report said the government had decreased its efforts to hold traffickers accountable for trafficking crimes, initiating just one new investigation in 2013, compared to eight in 2012.
In one of three investigations pending at the close of the last reporting period, employers of Fijian nannies allegedly subject to domestic servitude were acquitted on trafficking charges, although the nannies were awarded back pay and damages for underpayment of wages and excessively long work hours.
Labour Party justice spokesman Andrew Little said the Immigration Department should ensure the conditions of workers’ permits were being fulfilled and they did not end up in exploitative situations.
A lot of enforcement of labour standards did not happen because the number of labour inspectors had been run down, and they were forced to react to complaints rather than proactively conduct inspections, Little said.
New Zealand maintained its tier one ranking in the report, identifying it as a country that complies with minimum standards for protecting trafficking victims.
New Zealand has been named as a “source country” for sex trafficking of underage girls and a destination country for forced labour in a sharply critical report released by the US State Department.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the annual Trafficking in Persons report in Washington DC this morning.
It accuses New Zealand of having a small number of girls and boys, often of Maori or Pacific Island descent, who are trafficked domestically as street prostitutes.
They can be the victim of gang trafficking rings, the report said.
Foreign women from China and Southeast Asia are recruited to become prostitutes in New Zealand and may be at risk of coercive practices, it said.
The report also takes aim at violent and abusive conditions in place on some foreign-flagged fishing vessels in New Zealand waters.
[The] New Zealand Government was urged to make greater efforts to assess the extent of sex and labour trafficking and to enact legislation increasing punishments and prohibitions for trafficking offences.
Current New Zealand law contains a narrow definition of trafficking as a transnational offence, the report said.
Other provisions in the 1961 Crimes Act outlaw slavery, but fail to bar forced labour through debt, law, custom or agreement prohibiting a person leaving employment, it said.
“Because the prohibition of trafficking is limited to transnational actions such as the abduction, use of force or threat, or force, coercion, or deception to arrange entry into New Zealand – and does not include reference to exploitation, there appears to be no legal prohibition on the domestic recruitment, transfer, or transportation of adults for the purpose of exploitation.”
Eva Marree Smith Kullander, a Swedish mother of two, was stabbed to death by her ex-husband during a supervised visit with her children on July 11, 2013.
A few years prior to her murder, Kullander (known professionally as Petite Jasmine) lost custody of her children when a family member reported her to social services for selling sex. Despite telling social services that her ex-husband was abusive, the state gave primary custody to him, and he refused to let Jasmine see their children. Jasmine fought hard to regain contact with her children, even though her ex-husband continuously threatened her with violence. After two years of court battles, social services finally began working to reunite Jasmine with her children. It was in a social worker’s office, during the first visit she’d had with her son in over a year, that Jasmine’s ex-husband stabbed her to death (the attending social worker was also stabbed, but survived).
In response to this vicious murder, the English Collective of Prostitutes, the International Committee for the Rights of Sex Workers, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) and many other sex worker rights organizations staged protests, demonstrations, and rallies in cities all over the world.
Jasmine was “stabbed to death by stigma,” they claimed. “End violence against sex workers,” they demanded. “Full decriminalization now.”
According to these sex worker rights organizations, if prostitution in Sweden were fully decriminalized, Jasmine’s ex-husband would never have killed her.
“NSWP (Global Network of Sex Work Projects) condemns the ‘Swedish Model’ that claims to protect women involved in sex work by criminalizing clients. This paternalistic approach fundamentally denies women’s agency and marks a state stamp of approval on the stigma attached to sex work, a stamp that cost Jasmine her life at the hands of her ex-partner.”
Unlike New Zealand, which is praised by sex worker rights organizations for fully decriminalizing prostitution, Sweden has adopted the Nordic Model, which decriminalizes women like Jasmine, but continues to criminalize pimps and johns.
But are prostitutes in New Zealand really safer than prostitutes in Sweden, as sex worker rights organizations claim?
Since the Nordic Model was adopted in Sweden 16 years ago, not a single prostituted woman has been murdered by a john. Not one. Jasmine is the only one to be murdered during that time, and that was a murder committed by her abusive ex-husband.
New Zealand, with only half the population of Sweden, has lost several prostituted women to gruesome murders committed by johns since full decriminalization was implemented in 2002.
And yet not one of the sex worker rights organizations that protested so vehemently against the murder of Petite Jasmine saw fit to protest the murders of these women in New Zealand. Their murders didn’t fit the pro-sex work agenda, and so their murders were erased.
Here are a few of their stories:
Ngatai Lynette Manning was 27 years old in 2008 when she was stabbed, strangled, raped, and beaten to death with a metal pole.
Manning, more commonly known as Mellory, had a difficult childhood spent mostly in foster care, and was pulled into the vicious cycle of drugs and prostitution at the age of 14. After her sister committed suicide, Mellory fought successfully to break out of that cycle, fearing she, too, would die young. Mellory was able to get clean, enroll in a polytechnic school and study art. She and her partner, Kent Gorrie, talked about getting married and having children. But when Mellory’s poverty and unemployment made her unable to afford Christmas presents, she decided to return to prostitution for “just one night.”
On December 18, 2008, Mellory was walking down Blenheim Road and was picked up at 10:35 by Mauha Huatahi Fawcett, a 21 year old man who went by the gang name, “Muck Dog.” Fawcett had not yet received entry into the Mongrel Mob gang and had been ordered to take part in the killing of Manning to gain membership. As part of his gang initiation, Fawcett was ordered to stab Manning but claims to have backed out. He testified that as loud music blared, Mellory was strangled, stabbed, raped and beaten with a metal pole while gang members “barked like dogs” and gave Nazi salutes. Mellory died from her injuries and Fawcett dumped her body into the nearby Avon river.
Catherine Healy, national coordinator for the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, says her organization is a huge supporter of New Zealand’s decision to decriminalize sex work, which makes it easy and legal for johns to purchase sex from women working at home, on the street, or from the web.
“It’s really important to have as many options as possible and to be able to work wherever one wants — we’ve avoided a monopoly scenario and it keeps exploitation in check,” Healy claims. New Zealand’s policy of full decriminalization has “been just fantastic, really,” she said.
When Mellory was murdered, sex worker rights organizations did not call for a “sex worker uprising” as they did following Petite Jasmine’s murder. In fact, there was not a single protest, rally, or demonstration organized on Mellory’s behalf. Not one.
“Suzie Sutherland was a petite woman who is said to have hated violence,” the New Zealand Herald reports. In April 2005, Jules Patrick Burns picked her up on the street to buy sex, strangled her, and left her naked body propped awkwardly against a wooden fence in a vacant lot. Her family described Suzie as a “very beautiful young woman, well-spoken and gentle.” They said she had been a good student as a child, and could play the piano and cello. A “happy and cooperative” girl, she adored animals, was artistically talented, and loved singing and acting. Her dreams for the future included travelling the world and pursuing her education. Sadly, as a young adult, Suzie started using drugs and became addicted to morphine. At 20, she attempted to get sober and entered rehab, but left before finishing her treatment. Suzie’s family hoped she would try again to break free of her addiction, but instead she moved away to Christchurch and shut them out of her life.
The john who murdered Suzie, Jules Burns, told the jury she seemed “very professional.” At the start, he said, she was “enthusiastic and talkative”, but became irritable after a while, and angrily told him he was “taking too long”. Burns claimed the sex had been a “satisfactory experience” for him, and that when he was finished he drove Suzie back to the corner where he had picked her up. According to a police statement, Burns approached several prostitutes on the morning of the murder. He was convicted of strangling Suzie and sentenced to a minimum of 17 years in prison.
There was not a single protest, rally, demonstration, or “sex worker uprising” called for by sex worker rights organizations on Suzie’s behalf. Not a single one.
In December 2005, 24 year old Anna Louise Wilson, mother of a four year old girl, was picked up for sex by Peter Steven Waihape. He drove her to a carpark, where an argument broke out when he refused to use a condom. Waihape then partially strangled the young woman, removed her clothing, bound her hands and raped her. He then pushed her out of the car and ran her over. When Anna became trapped under the car, begging and pleading for her life, he ran her over again. Witnesses to the murder reported hearing Waihape laughing as he repeatedly ran her down. This was not the first time he’d assaulted a woman.
Justice Lester Chisholm shared damning witness testimony at Waihape’s sentencing hearing: “You were then seen to get out of your car and kick her at least twice. She managed to free herself and sat up. She pleaded for her life. Then you drove at her a number of times, smashing through a concrete wall.” Waihape then dragged the young woman back into his car, drove her to the Avon river, and threw her half-naked body into the water.
“The ultimate indignity,” Judge Chisholm said, “was that you used her as a stepping platform to get out of the river. It couldn’t get much worse, Mr Waihape.” Anna’s semi-naked body was found in the Avon River about 3pm on Thursday, lying in mud on her back with her wrists bound in front of her and her head submerged under water.
At the sentencing hearing, Anna’s father described the heartbreak he felt at his daughter’s funeral, watching his granddaughter “stand next to her mother’s coffin… rubbing her dead mother’s stomach.”
Despite the viciousness of the murder, there was not a single protest, rally, demonstration, or “sex worker uprising” called for by a single sex worker rights organizations on Anna’s behalf. Not one.
Nuttidar Vaikaew was a Thai prostitute living in New Zealand who went by the professional name, “Sky.” She was strangled to death by one of her “regulars,” Gordon Hieatt, in her own home. After murdering Sky, Hieatt continued to visit other prostituted women. His computer records showed him engaging in online chats with one prostitute in Thailand while still living in the apartment with Sky’s decomposing body. In the messages, Hieatt admitted to murdering Sky and “said he read jokes all day to cheer himself up.” When the police found Sky’s body, it was on a bed in the lounge, heavily decomposed, and holding an ace of hearts playing card. Hieatt was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
There was not a single protest, rally, demonstration, or “sex worker uprising” called for by sex worker rights organizations on Sky’s behalf. Not one.
“It’s been just fantastic, really.”
“Often sex workers are really envious that sex workers have rights in this country that are the same as anyone else in the work force,” Healy said.
New Zealand has half the population of Sweden. Half. And not one prostitute has been murdered by a john in Sweden since the Nordic model passed in 1999. Not one in 16 years.
Surely anyone who cared about the lives of prostituted women would call that “fantastic” — much more so than the gruesome realities faced by New Zealand’s prostitutes.
But let’s not just pick on New Zealand. In Germany, 55 prostitutes have been murdered since 2002 when prostitution was legalized. There have also been 29 attempted murders.
The Netherlands has almost the exact same overall murder rate as Sweden. But 28 prostituted women have been murdered in the Netherlands since the year 2000, when prostitution was legalized.
Let’s review those numbers.
Germany: 55 sex workers murdered by johns in 13 years. The Netherlands: 28 sex workers murdered by johns in 15 years. Sweden: Zero sex workers murdered by johns in 16 years.
“We demand an end to stigma, criminalization, violence, and murders. “ the NSWP declares.
But if that’s really what they want, why aren’t they supporting the Nordic Model? Perhaps it’s because the Nordic model cuts into the profits of the more privileged women in prostitution, pimps, and brothel owners. What’s a few murdered women when there’s so much money to be made?
Mellory, Suzie, Anna, and Sky. Say their names. Their lives matter. And they were viciously murdered by johns in a country where prostitution is being normalized.
Please do not erase them.
Imagine opposing big business in ALL its forms. Challenging industry lobbyists. Following the money. Fighting for alternatives. Freeing the world’s poor from having to service the world’s rich. Choosing solidarity with women, children and the world’s poorest.
No little girl dreams of this dressing room. Anna hunches on the concrete beam scratching around in her bag for her high heel boots.
The ground is a mat of shingle and damp dirt.
Even the weeds have given up trying to grow in this dank corner of Christchurch’s red light district. A digger tyre serves as Anna’s vanity table. On it rests a sparkly card holder full of condoms.
It is bitter July night in Christchurch – the kind of cold that eats through each layer of clothing. But instead of putting clothes on, Anna is taking them off.
She is a prostitute on Manchester St.
She shivers, but it is barely noticeable from her hands that are shaking, because Anna, 25, is dependent on alcohol.
“We all put on a show on how we can do this,” she says. “But yeah, it’s hard.”
Anna is eloquent, something she attributes to her “posh” state school background.
At 16, she abandoned school, instead working on and off on the street. “When I last worked it would have been four or five years ago. The amount of girls is, like, triple now. It’s because of housing,” she says.
This time around she has been out here for three months.
It is 6.04pm. Time to walk to her spot outside Vision College.
Ever since the heels went on, she is harder, swaggering and defiant.
She “hates herself” for being back out here.
“I’m darker. A lot harder, like putting up a wall. I have more of a stone for a heart than a heart, I guess,” she says flinching as she looks away, her fingers itching for a cigarette that isn’t there. She stares down the street. Over the next year Anna will attempt to leave Manchester St twice.
Since the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, working girls have had their patch reduced from about two kilometres, down to 360 metres between Bealey Ave and Salisbury St. Road works have forced “Peterborough” girls down with those who work the patch closer to Bealey Ave.
Elly, Mel and Leigh work down from Anna, sometimes at the bus stop and sometimes in front of a church.
Tonight they are lined up on a low concrete fence, like children waiting to get their photo taken, feet kicking the pavement.
Cars drive past slowly, some who will drive up and down all night without purchasing.
Others ask for prices because they don’t “have the guts” or get enough of a thrill off just asking, says Leigh.
Girls disappear behind bushes. There are no toilet facilities for the girls. The nearest are Cathedral Square but are locked at night.
Leigh, Mel and Elly live in an abandoned house.
Anna lives about 40 minutes walking distance away from the street, on an empty section, in a tent. The sneakers in her bag are for the walk home.
Along with this group there are between three and eight more workers on the street most nights.
The girls are glum tonight. It’s winter and very cold. Business is slow.
“God we are so lazy. Look at us we aren’t even trying, c’mon,” says Leigh, trying to buoy the girls.
Anna is further down the street, the clonk . . . clonk . . . clonk of her heels echoing on the deserted street.
A car pulls up slowly.
The driver becomes the subject of intense scrutiny by the three young women.
“Why isn’t Anna going up to him?” asks Mel.
Anna, in two inch heels, technically has the “job”. The car pulled up near her.
But she is smoking; gazing down Manchester St, walking the same tired patch.
The three women eye up the car.
Out here a man equals money.
“Well, someone has to do him,” points out Leigh, lighting up a cigarette.
Mel stubbs out hers and strides down to the car, slinging her bag over a shoulder.
She is back in a couple of minutes, grinning.
“He was on the phone talking to his wife,” she says laughing.
“You probably gave that poor man a heart-attack,” scolds Leigh.
The girls clutch at each others shoulders laughing helplessly.
The lack of jobs plus the lack of synthetic cannabis in their pockets soon subdues them.
“I am not leaving until I do crack it, even if it’s just a $40 or $60. Just for sessions in the morning,” says Elly.
She runs up to a pole and swings around it. She doesn’t laugh.
Elly wanted to be a vet when she was a little girl.
Her hand gently strokes the soft golden hair of a puppy that lies licking her hand.
It is early September. She and Leigh have shifted out to the abandoned section with Anna. Elly was sick of her seeing her money “go up in smoke” – used to buy synthetic cannabis for everyone at the house.
Elly knew she wasn’t equipped to be a vet.
“I didn’t want to watch animals die or be in pain. Then I wanted to be a doctor but I couldn’t handle someone dying on me.” Elly knows what it is like to be a “pet”.
She “was sold” at age eight to an older man at the end of the street.
Anna has had three jobs this week. All those hours spent walking the pavement, smoking incessantly, has amounted to less than $120.
After five months she has become “old meat”.
It was the same when she was younger. A lot of jobs in the beginning, then trouble eking an income from then on in.
As a 16 year old she started because her friends did it to get rent money.
Her reasoning was since she had been raped by her brother from age nine she “may as well get paid for it”. She told her school counsellor at 15. Her mum sat in the counsellor’s office heaving with sobs. Then she hissed at Anna: “I’m going to lose my son because of you.” Anna’s voice trails off.
“I couldn’t do it any more, so I left,” she says very quietly. Her hand itches for a damned cigarette by her side.
A girl is weaving between the pavement and the road, a flowing dress hitched up. Anna knows her.
She is on morphine, quite common out here.
Some workers do a job, shoot up then once it wears off head back out to do another job.
The girl is friendly and nice.
She asks if Bridget has a cigarette to spare, before she continues weaving down the footpath looking for cigarette butts.
She stops suddenly and yells : “This f****** street!”
It is March. Elly no longer has her golden puppy.
She gave it up. She cannot look after it.
Elly left the abandoned section and has been arrested three times for being in vacant buildings.
It is hard to talk to her at the moment. She has been living in a world created by synthetic cannabis, her eyes seemingly permanently glazed.
Mauha Huatahi Fawcett, 26, is defending himself in the High Court in Christchurch, where he faces a charge of murdering Manning, 27, on or about December 18, 2008. Her partly naked body was found in the Avon River on December 19, 2008.
Earlier today the court heard that the Mongrel Mob presence on Manchester St increased dramatically about two months before prostitute Manning died.
In evidence read to the court, one sex worker said there was no trouble with gangs on the streets until a couple of months before Manning was killed.
“Suddenly the mob were all over the street, hitting up the girls for $20 a job.”
The woman said another street worker associated with the Mongrel Mob would drive around in a car with a mobster in the front seat.
“They would tell me they owned the streets, so I owed them money.”
The sex worker said a few nights after Manning was killed, the woman and the mobster pulled up in a white car while she was working on the street.
They tried to convince her to get in.
She thought if she complied, she would be raped and killed, so she arranged to meet them at another corner then ran away.
“I thought if I got in that car I would never be seen again.”
A statement from Kent Gorrie, Manning’s partner at the time of her death, has also been read to the court.
In it, Gorrie said Manning had worked on the streets since she was 14, and knew how to look after herself.
He said he used to be Manning’s minder and rejected the suggestion that they paid a ‘tax’ to the Mongrel Mob.
“We would never pay tax to anyone on the street.”
Manning had been raped previously and thrown out of moving cars.
She was one of the first to work as far down as Peterborough St and was “very territorial about her corner”, Gorrie said.
Manning was “choosy” about her clients and always used condoms with clients for all sex work.
She made other working girls angry because she would get more clients and money, because she was younger and prettier.
Gorrie said manning’s stepfather was a Mongrel Mob member when he was younger. She knew all the gangs.
“She would not get in a car with someone she did not like the look of,” he said.
“She would never get into a car with anyone from the Mongrel Mob for a job.”
Gorrie said that before Manning’s death, they were both on the methadone programme and hoped to have a baby.
Manning had also reconnected with her mother.
“We were going to straighten our lives out,” he said.
Opening for the Crown, prosecutor Pip Currie told the jury Manning was strangled, raped, stabbed and bashed at the Aotearoa Mongrel Mob’s “pad” in Galbraith Ave, Avonside.
Several people, including Fawcett, were involved in the killing and any of her wounds could have been fatal, Currie said.
Manning had two clients on the night of December 18 – neither of whom were suspects – and was last seen by members of the public on the corner on Manchester and Peterborough streets, her usual spot, about 10.40pm.
Known as “Muckdog” or “Little Muckdog”, Fawcett was a prospect for the Christchurch-based Mongrel Mob chapter, which wanted to “take over” Manchester St and tax the prostitutes $20 from each of their jobs.
Prospects, also known as “soldiers”, were expected to do various tasks for the gang, which could include making money or putting their hand up to crimes to prevent a patched gang member from being arrested, a police witness told the court.
Fawcett’s job was to watch over the street workers on Manchester St. Senior gang members had told him being patched gave you “licence to kill”, Currie said.
Prostitutes could be taxed using standover tactics, and failure to pay would result in a beating – usually by a gang prospect or associate rather than by a patched member, Detective Kelvin Holden told the court.
Fawcett gave conflicting accounts when interviewed by police between 2009 and 2012 including describing Manning’s murder as a “planned hit” by the Mongrel Mob and claims about Manning “owing money for drugs”.
Another mobster had told him that all the working girls had to pay them “rent”. Manning was identified while standing on Manchester St as the “girl who owed money”. When confronted by an associate, “she said she didn’t have the money but would try and get it”, Currie said.
January 2002: name unknown, murder attempt, in Freeman’s Bay in central Auckland. woman survived, but she had been left for dead.
February 2 2002: Marlene „Ma“ Tania Kelly, 40, Auckland, Otahuhu, mother of six, stabbed to death in a parking lot „In the Shadows“ between Mason Ave and Station Rd., murdered by Kevin Thomas Helps, 37
December 15 2005: Anna Louise Wilson, 24, was found in the Avon River, murdered by Peter Stephen Waihape, 28
April 2005: Suzie Sutherland, 36, Christchurch, was found strangled in a vacant section in Peterborough Street
April 13 2005: Xiukun Feng, 54, also known as Nancy Peterson, Auckland, owned a massage parlour in Gt North Rd, her body was found one day later in her parked car in New Lynn carpark Rata St
2006 – 19 year old parlor worker assaulted during a booking while working at a prominent “high class” establishment in Wellington – (noted for it’s good security).
2006 – 29 year old WG violently assaulted in girls changing room by a patched gang member, despite the presence of ’security’.
2007 – 19 year old girl violently attacked while in a booking in a popular massage parlor in Auckland
2007 – Parlor worker threatened at knife point by a client while attending an out-call
2007 – Young WG violently assaulted at front desk by an irate client
2008 – Man attacks prostitute in Christchurch city. Attempts to abduct her
18 December 2008: Ngatai Lynette Manning (also known as Mallory Manning), 27, maori, was murdered in Christchurch http://tinyurl.com/kh93n24
April 17 2009: Nuttidar Vaikaew, „Sky“, 48, thai, Auckland, 1/26 Warwick Street, murdered by „on-and-off-boyfriend“ Gordon Hieatt, 48, after an argument about him having to leave the apartment for an appointment with one of her clients, he wanted her tos top working in the sex trade. He „just wanted her to shut up“ He slept next to her dead body in his bed for four weeks, prosecutor: “He did not love her. He did not even respect her. What he was interested in was sex”
2010 – today
June 29 2009: Carmen Thomas, 32, south-african, Auckland, Remuera, Ngapuhi Rd., murder used a child’s baseball bat as the murder weapon. Police found the body of the missing escort cut in pieces and buried in a box in the Waitakere Range, murdered by Brad Callaghan
15 March 2014: name unknown, 34, Auckland, suffered numerous physical injuries during the attack in the lonely expanse of Symonds St Cemetery, murder attempt
Former prostitutes and their advocates are calling for clients of sex workers to be prosecuted, saying the decriminalisation of the industry has failed them.
Freedom from Sexual Exploitation director Elizabeth Subritzky told Parliament’s justice and electoral committee the only solution to the damage that prostitution caused, and the violence it created, was to prosecute buyers of sexual services through a reform of prostitution laws.
The Prostitution Reform Act decriminalised brothels, escort agencies, and soliciting when it narrowly passed into law by one vote in 2003.
The act not only encouraged more men to buy sex, but transformed prostitution into an acceptable, even attractive job for young, poor women in New Zealand, Subritzky said.
The petition, with 2910 signatures, calls for a law change which will make the purchase of sexual services illegal, extending the existing law which enables clients of underage prostitutes to be prosecuted.
One former prostitute told the committee her 16 years on the streets as a sex worker began when she was just 12, after a toxic family life exposed her to drugs, and emotional, verbal and at times physical abuse.
“Me and my cousins would roam the streets and scab money for food. It was then when I was approached by a gentleman who said that if he gave me money to feed myself and younger cousins, in exchange I was to give him oral sex.
“It wasn’t until I was 14 that prostitution became full time from then on” she said.
Prostitution then became her life for the next 14 years.
“That’s all I did, day in and day out, public holidays, Christmases, birthdays, I was out there.”
Incarcerated for long periods during this time, she turned back to prostitution upon release “because that’s all I knew and all I was good at doing in order to survive, I didn’t know any other way.”
“It was a dark life I was living – violent, extremely dangerous, the constant abuse, and fear of not knowing whether or not you were going to make it through the night when you have gangs or thugs going around the streets doing the girls over, beating them for their earnings which the gangs call rent.”
Brutally beaten and left for dead a number of times, the woman said “being raped and sometimes gang raped came with the job”.
“This was a really dark time in my life, a time that I’ll never visit again.”
Subritzky said the tragic circumstances many women were born into led them to sell themselves to survive.
“Each of the women who has spoken regrets entering the sex industry.
“If they could push a replay button for their lives with the wisdom of hindsight they would not choose to sell their bodies in prostitution.
“I know many women who would never have entered if it were illegal for men to buy their bodies.”
Other former prostitutes who spoke to the select committee described their substance abuse as a way of switching off while working, often to the point of blackout.
One used alcohol as a coping mechanism for the sexual abuse suffered during her early life, and said one day “something just snapped inside of me”, and she turned to prostitution, aged 32.
“I didn’t care what happened to me any more and thought I may as well get paid for having sex.
“I was raped once and scared many times. Each time I did it I never knew if I was going to be raped or even murdered.”
She has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and is undergoing therapy.
The woman urged the adoption of the Nordic Model advocated by Subritzky, because “the law at the moment isn’t working.”
The Nordic Model – adopted in Sweden and Iceland – penalises the demand for commercial sex while decriminalising the prostitutes themselves.
The desire to reduce violence against women underpinned the Nordic Model, Subritzky said.
Committee chairman Scott Simpson said the committee would consider the petition and release a report next year.
“That will give us plenty of time to carefully consider what was presented to us today.
“In particular, the submissions presented by the anonymous women were very, very powerful.”
For the majority of people, the controversy surrounding Amnesty International and its proposed prostitution policy is a non-story. This is for the simple reason that most will assume that decriminalisation means not arresting the women. When Amnesty promotes the notion that the decriminalisation of sex workers will protect their human rights, they fail to explain that this would apply to all those whose business is associated with the sex trade: pimps, brothel-owners, pornographers, and others who profit from the sale of women.
A number of survivors who have left the sex trade have spoken about how they survived while still involved, which includes insisting to themselves and to others that they were making a free and happy choice to sell sex.
When I exposed Amnesty’s plan to campaign on decriminalising the entire sex trade in a national newspaper, I did so in the knowledge that feminists had been fighting this battle with senior policymakers for some years. Amnesty had been experiencing pressure both inside and outside of the organisation to put the human rights of women on the Amnesty agenda. This was partially achieved when it launched its violence against women strategy, but prostitution was never a part of it. So long as Amnesty was condemning child sexual exploitation and the trafficking of women from across borders within the sex industry, they seemed fine to ignore the rest of the grotesque, state-sanctioned abuse of adult women.
The whistleblower who approached me with the policy paper told me that she and other women in the organisation could not convince many of the men that decriminalisation would harm rather than help women in prostitution. Following my exposure, and the outcry from survivors of prostitution and feminists, Amnesty responded by promising that it would properly consult interested parties before deciding on the appropriate policy. This consultation exercise was carried out by an academic who is a well-known adherent of the pro-decriminalisation argument. During the consultation, no survivor group or other abolitionist organisation that are critical of the sex trade was consulted. The result – the new draft policy – was a foregone conclusion.
Amnesty has only released a short summary of this research, emphasising the accounts of a few sex workers, especially in Oslo, who have complained about police brutality. All who oppose Amnesty’s policy also oppose police brutality against any and all people. Amnesty was established to protect people against this.
In the draft policy document, New Zealand is cited as a paradise of egalitarian prostitution, but according to its own government report, that is not quite the true story. Senior police officials have admitted that policing of organised crime in legal brothels is “patchy” and the regulation of brothels is “often woeful”. One investigator noted that because of decriminalisation police were not required by law to investigate the goings-on, and organised criminals infiltrated the off-street sex industry. The gross mistreatment of women in this vile industry is clear to see. Why is it that Amnesty, supposed champion of the oppressed, fails to see this?