Article Title:Anatomy of a Moral Panic
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:6th June 2013 - 10:01 am
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Story ID:13448
Text:"Papatoetoe Reclaiming Our Streets"- was it a grassroots or astroturf pressure group? And was it an honest 'concerned residents group' or a populist vigilante organisation acting on the fringes of permissible behaviour itself? Across the Tasman, Premier Nick Grenier's conservative New South Wales Liberal/National Coalition state government passed its backlash Summary Offenses Bill 1988 as a response to orchestrated 'citizens group' outcries, many orchestrated by either the Christian Right's Festival of Light, or else Fred Niles' Call to Australia Party (now the Christian Democratic Party). Was 'Papatoetoe Reclaiming Our Streets' such a prefabricated, orchestrated astroturf entity? It has left no organisational newsletters in the National Library of New Zealand, AUT or University of Auckland archives, never had a website of its own, and is now reportedly defunct, so it is impossible to rely on primary documented evidence in this context. Nor did it attract the attention of social scientists who might have examined the pressure group in question. However, there are questions that need to be asked. For example, why did Papatoetoe Reclaiming Our Streets start up after the passage of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003, given that according to Auckland Council's own notorious anti-sexworker propaganda brochure, Street Prostitution in South Auckland Communities (2012), the street sex work "problem" predated the passage of the legislation in question by several years, according to the Manukau Courier? Here's an alternative hypothesis. Due to the stealth fundamentalist element within United Future and collapse of the reformist Alliance Party, the Prostitution Reform Act 2003's final vote was closer than it should have been. Undeterred, the Maxim Institute and its Christian Right allies tried to orchestrate a non-binding citizens referendum against the Prostitution Reform Act, but failed to obtain enough petition signatures to generate one. By 2005, the electorate had had enough of United Future's antics and the party was pared back down to Ohariu's Peter Dunne and two List MPs, Judy Turner and Gordon Copeland. In 2007, Copeland deserted United Future after Dunne voted for Section 59 Repeal, established the failed Kiwi Party and is now active within Colin Craig's Conservative Party after it absorbed the Kiwi Party in 2011. Meanwhile, following the "Logangate" plagiarism scandal in 2005, the Maxim Institute primarily became a fiscal conservative thinktank, while Family First arose as New Zealand's leading Christian Right frontrunner group. It has given substantial coverage to both the initial failed Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill until its failure in 2008, and has similarly supported the current Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places), although the rise of the Marriage Equality Amendment Act diverted its resources during 2012/2013. By then, PROS had been and gone, ceasing to exist after media controversy about its harassment of street sex workers, clients, and even unrelated individuals, which have apparently led to the group's demise. Despite this, disinformation and moral panic have survived its demise, and appear to be the organisation's malignant legacy. There may also be residual social networks that overlap with local or Auckland-based Christian Right groups or fundamentalist churches. However, PROS did not have the support of either central government agencies or local New Zealand Police constables and personnel. When the Ministry of Justice released its report on Street Based Prostitution in Manukau City in April 2009, it condemned PROS' vigilante tactics. However, as I have already noted during my earlier investigation of the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill, fundamentalist pressure groups appear to be somewhat overrepresented amongst supporters of this draconian anti-sexworker private member's bill. Remember, Family First, the Conservative Party, Franklin Christian Lobby, LifeChurch Manurewa, Manukau Christian Charitable Trust, Manukau New Life Centre and the Papatoetoe Christian Fellowship all made supportive parliamentary submissions to the Local Government and Environmental Select Committee. Local businesses make up another chunk of significant opposition to street sex work, and the remainder seem to be social conservative local board representatives and members of local South Asian community and religious associations, as well as the National Council of Women and Manukau Maori Wardens Association. How representative was PROS? Certainly, during 2009 and within other parliamentary submissions against the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill, there were those that objected to PROS' hardline vigilante tactics while it was still active. Charlotte Ama is an Auckland City Mission social worker who cares for the Auckland homeless. While her employer also condemned the proposed bill, Ms Ama made an individual submission that condemned PROS for its verbal abuse, hounding and harrassment of street sex workers and their clients, and also raised questions about the overly collaborative relationship that she alleged existed between the former Papatoetoe Community Board and PROS. Ama referred to aggressive PROS behaviour such as taking vehicle registration details of street sex workers and clients, stalking street sex workers as they returned home and sending shaming letters drenched with perfume to alleged clients. According to one disgruntled party, there was at least one case where such mischievous and intimidating correspondence was sent to the wrong people. In May 2009, Radio New Zealand and other media outlets reported that case. PROS had taken down vehicle registration details erroneously and sent such threatening correspondence to an elderly 78 and 83 year old couple who lived in the Bay of Islands and had never even driven their car within Manukau City or Greater Auckland. The elderly couple were sent a threatening letter from PROS which provided their vehicle registration number and threatened to publish it on a public website. Their daughter, Ms Sally Hoani, was incensed that her elderly parents were being threatened in such a manner, and said that she was willing to take the case to the Privacy Commissioner. Admittedly, PROS activist and Papatoetoe Local Board member John McCracken was apologetic and promised greater diligence, but Hunters Corner Police area commander Bruce Bird stated that the New Zealand Police did not support such vigilante tactics and that if this behaviour continued, criminal charges were possible. Ms. Hoani's parents were not the only victims of PROS' standover tactics. While PROS, their South Auckland local body and Auckland Council allies and the Christian Right would have us believe that street sex workers do not live or work in Manurewa or Papatoetoe, in a New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Auckland branch submission against the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) submission, Annah Pickering related the sad story of Cynthia, a transsexual woman who lives with her partner and child in the area. Made redundant from her former job, Cynthia turned to street sex work to help provide for her family in the absence of other employment opportunities available to her as a transsexual woman. She was charged with assault after an alleged entrapment incident which Annah stated was orchestrated by PROS- or more significantly, Stephen Gray, PROS activist and then-chair of the Papatoetoe Community Board. Like Charlotte Ama's previous submission, Annah also expressed concern at the perceived and documented improper relationship between the former Papatoetoe Community Board and PROS. Annah's submission also noted that Cynthia was seriously traumatised by the event, her experience of harassment and victimisation, and PROS' standover tactics. She worried about how she would provide income to support her family if she were imprisoned. Fortunately, the presiding judge acknowledged the degree of PROS vigilante behaviour involved in Cynthia's case and discharged her without conviction. She sounds like an ordinary mother trying to do the best for her child and family in onerous economic circumstances. Hovering in the background, one notes the malignant presence of Family First, approvingly citing positive media spin coverage of PROS as an alleged 'grassroots residents group' in 2009/2011, of course omitting any coverage of its more questionable and destructive vigilante activities such as those described above. To conclude, this strikes one as a transparently contrived case of 'moral panic' against street sex work in Manurewa. Indeed, I'd describe it as a textbook case. Take stigmatised social activity such as street sex work. Generate a vigilante 'concerned citizens' populist pressure group, primarily responding to anecdote, subjective impressions and scapegoating, and use lazy sensationalist media coverage to escalate the scale of these erroneous impressions. Then, demand kneejerk backlash activity from local and central government politicians. Fortunately, though, there are contrasting media reports of PROS' actual tactics, Ministry of Justice/Prostitution Law Review Committee reports and parliamentary submissions that paint a very different picture than that provided by the defunct vigilante group and its apologists and unofficial spin doctors. Grassroots or astroturf? Astroturf. Recommended: Annah Pickering: New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (Auckland) submission on the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill: 02.11.2010: Annah's References to Improper PROS/Papatoetoe Committee Board relationships: a) Papatoetoe Community Board Minutes – 28 July 2008 13, Pg 16/22 Supplement “A” y%20Board%20Minutes%2028%20July%202008.pdf b) Papatoetoe Community Board Meeting – 25 August 2008 7, Pg 13/29 y%20Board%20Agenda%2025%20August%202008.pdf 4.2 Summary of Papatoetoe Community Board grants made to date (this financial year) c) Papatoetoe Community Board Meeting – 24 November 2008 14, Pg 18/35 4.2 Summary of Papatoetoe Community Board grants made to date (this financial year) y%20Board%20Agenda%2024%20November%202008.pdf CLOSE UP ‘Sweeping the streets of sex workers’ a) 2659312/video?vid=2659320 b) 2659312/video?vid=2659327 Charlotte Ama (Homelessness Social Worker, Auckland City Mission): Submission on the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill: "Prostitution letter sent to the wrong people"Radio New Zealand: 14.05.2009: Karen Mangnall: "Wrong people given warning" Manukau Courier: 14.05.2009: "Sweeping the streets of sex workers" Close Up: 20.04.2009: Stanley Cohen: Folk Devils and Moral Panics: London: Macmillan: 1980. Not Recommended: Frances Morton: "Cleaning up the streets" New Zealand Herald: 03.04.2011:  
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