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Qualitative study exploring the effects of the Prostitution Reform Act on social workers and youth

Investigators

Stephanie Wahab
Associate Professor Gillian Abel

Abstract

While sex work is no longer illegal, we have no idea if and how the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) (2003) has informed social work practice with sex workers. We will explore the extent to which social workers are aware of the legal rights afforded to sex workers, and the extent to which young people under the age of 18 involved in sex work are affected by the legislation.

The decriminalisation of sex work in 2003 via the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) changed conditions for sex workers giving them legal rights. Recent research evaluating the effects of the PRA has shown positive impacts on the health and safety of sex workers (Abel et al., 2007). However, stigma associated with the industry still exists and has a negative impact on sex workers’ abilities to access services and build trusting relationships with providers.

Social workers have long interacted with sex workers. Attempts to regulate “the social evil” through Evangelical and Reform movements, and the Contagious Diseases Acts created numerous opportunities for benevolent and charity workers to engage with “fallen women” in NZ. While sex work is no longer illegal, we have no idea if and how the PRA has informed social work practice with sex workers. We also do not know the extent to which social workers are aware of the legal rights afforded to sex workers, nor do we know how young people under the age of 18 involved in sex work are affected by the legislation. Social workers interact most with underage sex workers; these interactions are crucial to positive outcomes. The research question is: What are some attitudes and beliefs about sex work and sex workers’ legal rights as expressed by social workers and youth involved in the sex industry?

The aim of this research is to better understand how the PRA (2003) has informed social work practice with sex workers, if at all, as well as the ways in which youth (16-18) engaged in sex work believe they are impacted, if at all, by the PRA.

Funded by a Humanities Research Grant