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Decriminalisation of sex industry positive move

Clocktower from the Leith

Thursday, 13 May 2010 1:17pm

Decriminalisation of New Zealand’s sex industry has resulted in safer, healthier sex workers, a new book by University of Otago, Christchurch, researcher Gillian Abel shows.

Since decriminalisation seven years ago sex workers are more empowered to insist on safe sex, Abel’s book “Taking the crime out of sex work – New Zealand sex workers’ fight for decriminalisation’’ shows.

Abel is a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Public Health and General Practice department.

She edited the book with Lisa Fitzgerald (a former Otago University, Christchurch, health promotion lecturer) and Catherine Healy (with Aline Taylor).

They interviewed 772 sex workers for the book.

Abel says the book provides compelling evidence decriminalisation has achieved the aim of addressing sex workers’ human rights and has had a positive effect on their health and safety.

Decriminalisation has also provided sex workers with more tools to manage their work environment. With knowledge of their employment rights, brothel workers are better able to assert these rights with brothel operators and clients, Abel says.

The relationship between sex workers – particularly street workers – and police has improved, the book shows.

They are more likely to report violence against them to police, Abel says.

Despite vast improvements in the safety of sex workers since decriminalisation, there is still work to be done, she says.

There is still stigma associated with the job.

Government social policies need to be improved to protect those aged under 18 entering sex work, such as freeing up access to the independent youth benefit. Likewise, greater support is needed for transgender youth, who are particularly vulnerable to being drawn into the industry, Abel says.

Some comments from sex workers included in the book are:

“So yeah, so say just the power it’s given us as the professionals, that we have the law behind us and we can say, “Look if you do this, we can prosecute you”, like any other place where they break, you know, the law.” (Sheila, managed worker, female)

“It surely must give us rights. We’re not invisible people. We are human beings, and if we’re being attacked, we have the right also to the same protection as anyone else. I must say when the law changed, it did turn, it did make it even easier because you could just ring the police and just say, you know, and they’d be up there like a shot.” (Josie, private worker, female)

“For the last couple of years, the police have been really good, really on to it. So we’ve been having more patrol cars going down the street. So that’s, that’s real good. Yeah, yeah, now they actually care. Before [law change] they just didn’t care. You know, if a girl, if a worker gets raped or, you know, anything like that, there wasn’t much, then there wasn’t much they could do. But now that the law’s changed, it’s changed the whole thing.” (Joyce, street and private worker, female)

“You cannot do a job without using protection. The law has changed so much. It’s made people think a lot more.” (Joyce, street and private worker, female)

The book can be bought from May 19 at policypress.co.uk

For further information contact

Gillian Abel,
University of Otago, Christchurch,
Tel 64 3 364 3619,
Email gillian.abel@otago.ac.nz

Or Kim Thomas,
Senior Communications Advisor,
University of Otago, Christchurch,
Cell 027 222 6016.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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