|A French Sister of Perpetual Indulgence demonstrates against France's anti-sexworker anti-soliciting laws (July 2012) In the third article in this continuing series on Auckland street sex work, Asenati Lole-Taylor's proposed bill and Ministry of Justice advice are discussed.
New Zealand First List MP Asenati Lole-Taylor's proposed private members bill, the Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill is the third private members bill to attempt to recriminalise soliciting or street sex work. Perversely, and without citing concrete health data to substantiate its claims, it alleges that health and safety benefits have not occurred amongst street sex workers as a result of decriminalisation. It restricts sex work to brothels, which are not to be visible from the street. Street sex work is also said to contribute to increased crime, antisocial behaviour, offensive waste and underage sex work. However, as with the existing Manukau City (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill, this bill still includes $2000 fines, warrantless arrests and vehicle searches. Police have the discretion not to prosecute. However, as noted in the first article in this series, many public interest groups are concerned that these measures are infringements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.
Within her draft discussion document, Lole-Taylor misquotes the Ministry of Justice's Review of Street-Based Prostitution in Manukau City (April 2009) report. It is worth examining this document in greater detail, which I will do so here.
The Ministry of Justice's report is a valuable addition to the debate. It does not recommend the recriminalisation of street sex work. In summary, it provides a summary of the existing tensions at Hunters Corner, as well as Northcrest Car Park, another area known for Manurewa street sex work. It is worth noting that the alleged problems began in 1998, at which time street sex workers, concerned for their personal safety during Auckland power failures, relocated from the central city to Hunters Corner in Papatoetoe and the Northcrest Car Park. In other words, this alleged problem predates the Prostitution Law Reform Act and indicates that the threat of pre-reform criminal conviction did not deter street sex workers then, so why would it do so if soliciting was recriminalised?
The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective has noted that street sex work only occurs in four major New Zealand metropolitan precincts- Auckland, Manukau, Christchurch and Wellington. Of these, Manukau is the only one that reports any conflict between street sex workers and local residents. From this perspective, then, Lole-Taylor's proposed bill is even worse, given the absence of any such problem with street sex workers in Auckland City, Christchurch and Wellington (although the Christchurch City Council has made a submission in support of the current Manukau City Council (Regulating Prostitution in Specific Places Bill), alleging that there now "are" such problems.
The former Manukau City Council has taken a continually antagonistic approach to the issue of street sex work, so an historical overview is necessary in this context. It initially opposed the decriminalisation of soliciting within the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 and since its passage, it has been steadily trying to undermine it. When Parliament voted down the first Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill in 2008, the Manukau City Council Policy and Activities Committee refused to accept this and continued to advocate for anti-soliciting legislation.
It should also have read the report of the Local Government and Environmental Select Committee, which recommended against further progress for the first Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill, on the following grounds. Firstly, as with the current anti-soliciting private member's bill, the bill's impact is restricted to a specific locality and intends to recriminalise street soliciting within that specific area. This fragmentation of effect was stated to set an undesirable precedent and would deter future sex industry exit by transsexual sex workers, who have little enough alternative employment opportunities as matters stand. The Manukau Council's anti-brothel bylaw was also felt to be obstructive.
As the New Zealand Police submission to the Local Government and Environmental select committee on the current Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill concurs during the current debate, the earlier bill was also rejected because it was argued to divert already stretched police resources away from serious crime concerns, given that Manukau City has a higher than average level of offending relative to the rest of Auckland. Finally, the select committee argued that existing public nuisance legislation was available in cases of legitimate problems with street sex workers- the Summary Offences Act 1981, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the Litter Act 1979. These observations still apply.
What about the question of underage prostitution, which is still illegal under the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003? In January 2008, the New Zealand Police launched Operation Capio at the Northcrest Car Park. Altogether, they found eleven young people, who may or may not have been involved in street sex work. They were returned to their caregivers or placed in CYFS custody, and two individuals were prosecuted for use of underage sex workers. Since 2008, Streetwatch and the NZPC have reported the decline or absence of underage street sex workers. It is worth noting that given that gender identity discrimination is not concretely included within the Human Rights Act, (religious) emergency shelter providers may be discriminating against transgender youth at risk.
In March 2009, the Ministry conducted a series of site visits and interviews at Hunters Corner and Northcrest. It is noteworthy that their report notes that unsubstantiated opinion and historical events were frequently referred to within local community responses to street sex work.
What is the scale of street sex work in Manukau City? According to the Ministry of Justice report, it varies from about four to twenty street sex workers on any given night. At Northcrest, most of the street sex workers are ciswomen, from their late teens to early sixties, while most of the Hunters Corner street sex workers are transsexual women. Most of the objections noted toward street sex workers seemed to be moralist in tone, unsurprisingly, indicating the probable role of fundamentalist churches and pressure groups engaged in agitation and spreading unsubstantiated moral panic.
(Indeed, while I was researching this article, I found that one of the current Papatoetoe-Otara Local Board members, Ian McGechie, had previously circulated a petition against street sex work in Manukau City, which gained 1273 signatures. McGechie is also a member of St Johns and St Philips Presbyterian Church, whose minister, Rev. Margaret Low, made a distinctly transphobic comment about Hunters Corner street sex workers in a church newsletter in May 2009, which shows an appalling absence of awareness of transsexual women and their experience of discrimination and social exclusion. Fortunately, not all churches or Christian organisations share her ignorance:
"The moral high ground was claimed by the female sex workers with words like marginalised and oppressed, the implication is that the delicate women are being persecuted by these local men. One fact they did not stress is that many of the prostitutes are men. Although they may identify and dress as women, they have the build and strength of men and can be quite intimidating. "
In 2006, the earlier debate over the eventual Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill involved interference from Destiny Church and the Exclusive Brethren at a Local Government and Environmental select committee hearing, according to David Eames in the New Zealand Herald.)
MacGechie's presence at that meeting was distinctly unhelpful. He made continual reference to condom littering and having his daughter make observations about it. Although the late Mama Tere Strickland herself opposed the Prostitution Law Reform Act and was a controversial figure within the transgender community due to her alleged assaults on younger transgender sex workers under her care, she expressed concern at the 'unbalanced' nature of the Hunters Corner meeting, noting that the Papatoetoe Reclaiming Our Streets vigilante group only seemed to want to spin their side of the debate as 'innocent victims,' unsubstantiated by the Ministry of Justice's later report on the Manukau City street sex work controversy.
The NZPC has always maintained that the real problem with Hunters Corner and Manurewa City Centre has been the proliferation of pubs, nightclubs and liquor stores, resulting in widespread public drunkenness, not necessarily associated with street sex workers. CCTV coverage notes considerable alcohol-related loitering, public drunkenness, glue-sniffing and drug-taking, unconnected with the presence of street sex workers. This implies that street sex workers are being scapegoated in this context, and as well as concerns about alleged underage sex workers, the number of abandoned syringes is also exaggerated.
The Ministry of Justice report also strongly criticises the aforementioned anti-sexworker vigilante group, "Papatoetoe Reclaiming Our Streets." These individuals harrassed sex workers and their clients, took vehicle numbers and produced questionable pamphlets about the alleged health risks of street sex work. They took vehicle registration details and harassed clients of street sex workers at home, causing antagonisms between themselves and street sex workers. In none of the Manukau or Auckland City Council discussion of this issue are PROS identified as problematic in themselves. It is commendable that the Ministry of Justice report does do so.
In closing, the Ministry of Justice report recommended that Manukau engage in urban redesign strategies and adopt localised approaches, instead of relying on prohibitionist central government anti-soliciting legislation. It also encouraged street sex workers to move indoors, although also noted that given that brothels can still legally discriminate against transgender sex workers, this is not an option for them. It also referred to mediation. Thus, the Ministry of Justice Review of Street-Based Prostitution in Manukau City (April 2009) does not endorse either of the proposed anti-soliciting bills. Its recommendations deserve to be more widely known.
However, one can be forgiven for suspecting that elements of the Auckland Council have no intention of doing so in good faith and are only determined to pursue their current moral panic against transsexual and cisgender street sex workers, whatever the destructive health and safety consequences which might ensue. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to insure that this faulty and transphobic bill is defeated at its second reading on July 1. I suggest that New Zealand's LGBT communities take this opportunity.
Manukau City Council (Regulation of Street Prostitution) Bill: http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/?document=00dbhoh_bill10290_1
Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Amendment Bill: http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/?document=50HOH_MEMBILL185_1
Local Government and Environmental Select Committee: Report on Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill (2008): http://
Ministry of Justice: Review of Street-Based Prostitution in Manukau City (April 2009): http://www.justice.govt.nz/commerical-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-review-manukau
First Reading Debate (Manukau anti-soliciting bill): http://www/parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/Debates/Debates/3/a/1/49HansD_20100908_00000878-Manukau-City-Regulation-Prostitution.htm
"Pain of Prostitution Protest" Queer News Aotearoa: 06.09.2005: http://www.qna.net.nz/news/635.html
Wayne Thompson: "Residents to rally against Hunters Corner sex trade" New Zealand Herald: 01.09.2005: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1