|Come September 30, which way will this bill go? And why won't this be the end of matters related to street sex work? It seems as if the New Zealand Herald is sceptical about the merits of the proposed Manukau anti-soliciting bill, which may not bode well for its already doubtful chances of success.
In a commendably balanced piece, the Herald provided a welcome oversight of historical developments related to the debate over Manukau's City Council and PROS' ambitions for recriminalisation of soliciting- from the passage of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 and the then-Manukau City Council's refusal to accept that legislation. PROS started a localised moral panic against street sex workers on Manukau's Hunters Corner, but its vigilantism and bullying tactics cost it support and led to frustration for the author of the first Manukau City (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill, advanced by former Labour MP George Hawkins. It was then defeated.
However, the then-Manukau City Council refused to accept the situation. With the assistance of Hawkins once more, the Manukau City (Regulation of Prostitution of Specified Places) Bill was introduced in 2010. Throughout this period, as I've noted in prior articles on this subject, the Ministry of Justice has provided evidence-based rebuttals of the various connived moral panics and claims from the Manukau City Council, Auckland City Council, PROS, Manukau Courier, Manukau Ministers Network, Family First and others. As a consequence of the weight of evidence involved from successive Ministry reports, public health researchers, liberal church organisations like the Auckland City Mission, Streetreach and Lifewise and other opponents of the bill, the Local Government and Environment Select Committee has indicated that this bill will probably meet the same fate as its predecessor.
Unfortunately, that won't stop the Auckland City Council and Mayor Len Brown, a supporter of this legislation, as well as Councillor George Wood, the Papatoetoe-Otara Local Board's Leau Peter Skelton, Ian McGechie and former Papatoetoe Local Board member Stephen Grey, who are once more conniving with New Zealand First List MP Asenati Lole-Taylor, as well as her party leader Winston Peters, who are scheming to introduce a third private member's bill that seeks to recriminalise street sex work, the Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution Bill). To this end, there was a secretive "Street Prostitution Forum" in Papatoetoe, whose released details appear sketchy- possibly because releasing more information about it would provide opportunities for factual rebuttal once more.
Meanwhile, in Wellington, the Local Government and Environment select committee recently brokered a meeting to search for non-legislative solutions. However, based on the above bad faith by opponents of street sex work within the Auckland City Council, it is unlikely that they will accept what will hopefully be the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill's defeat at its second reading (provided there is lobbying to that effect).
The Herald produced two articles on the subject. The second piece interviewed several opposing parties in this context. Debbie Baker (Streetreach) runs a faith-based social service and support agency for street sex workers who want to get off the game, but despite her religious faith, opposes the Manukau anti-soliciting bill. Streetreach and the Prostitutes Collective have ended up on the same side of the debate over street sex work. Baker asks questions about the context of what drives people to street sex work, and accepts that any populist moral panic will mean that those who are poor, disadvantaged and doing this through economic necessity will be driven away from organisations like hers that provide support for departure from the sex industry.
In defence of the street workers, Baker states that the women in question have withdrawn from residential areas near Hunter's Plaza, and argues that it is irrational to blame the consequences of the global economic recession and consequent business closure on the acts of a handful of powerless and impoverished Maori and Pacific Island transsexual and cisgender street sex workers. For speaking in defence of the workers, Baker was heckled at a meeting on street prostitution and her organisation has not received council funding despite its work in enabling exit from the sex industry. This has made Baker conclude that the ACC will not listen to reason or dissent from its entrenched anti-sexworker/prohibitionist stance against street sex work.
Granted, the piece also interviews Papatoetoe-Otara Local Board chair John McCracken and Pat Taylor of the Hunters Corner Town Centre Society, who are both former members of the defunct vigilante group PROS. Baker states that PROS engaged in vigilante activity, which Taylor partially accepts. Valuably, the article cites the work of Dr Gillian Abel from Otago University's School of Public Health, who provides useful contextual data about the fact that Manukau street sex workers are often Maori or Pacific Island transsexual women who have few other life options open to them.
McCracken refuses to listen. According to him, PROS and the obstinacy of the Manukau City Council, elements of the Auckland City Council, Papatoetoe-Otara Local Board and others are an issue of 'residents rights' versus 'aggressive' (demonised) street sex workers. He and the others would prefer it if street sex workers moved to isolated industrial estates out of the way of schools, residential streets and churches- too bad about their increased risk of feral punters, assault and rape from unsafe working conditions from that isolation?
He also won't listen to the New Zealand Police, whose submission to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee opposed the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill on the grounds that it would involve police time, resources and surveillance equipment that needs to be prioritised for initiatives against violent crime and drug offences within the Manukau City catchment. From their perspective, public nuisance activity can be tackled by public nuisance legislation and their priority must be stopping violent crime in the area.
One unasked question is why the Auckland City Council isn't funding organisations like Streetreach, the (Methodist) Lifewise outreach programme or others to provide realistic exit options from street sex work in this context. One of the most objectionable aspects of its prohibitionist anti-soliciting strategy is placing mere concerns about public nuisance above the lives and health of impoverished and often homeless street sex workers as if the latter were 'disposable people.'
They most certainly are not the latter. And contrary to the 'cheap grace' pseudo-solutions advocated by Family First, the Conservative Party and fundamentalist churches on the issue of street sex work, opponents of street sex work have yet to show that they are doing anything more than 'social cleansing' of 'undesirables' in this context.
As usual, in 2007, the Ministry of Justice's Prostitution Law Review Committee produced an excellent research paper on exiting the sex industry. For some private and brothel street sex workers, sex work is indeed a preferred career option, given its lucrative rewards. Moreover, exit from the sex industry is impeded by the residual or threatened illegality, 'immorality' and stigma in this context, as well as perceptions that it is sex work itself that is a 'social problem' and not the context of risk and endangerment in this context.
For street sex workers, prior child sexual abuse, family violence or dysfunctional families/whanau/aiga may be primarily responsible for their current survival sex, especially if they are whakawahine or fa'afafine. They may be homeless or have been unable to continue their education, therefore leading to the absence of other than marginal and temporary alternative employment options. Moreover, given the enduring recession, even these meagre employment options may have been closed off. Benefits are insufficient to pay the rent or feed one's tamariki or rangitahi, or other bills, so sex work becomes a persuasive employment necessity in this context of poverty and economic marginality. Moreover, gender identity is still not concretely included within the Human Rights Act as it should be, so transphobic employment discrimination is still a reality.
In their paper, Mayhew and Mossman argue that to enable exit from the sex industry, there need to be meaningful choices available to sex workers. In the case of street sex workers, this is even more pressing. There need to be meaningful financial incentives, vocational and training options, alcohol and drug intervention services, and poverty and homelessness concerns addressed in this context. Therefore, there need to be holistic, choice-enabling, dedicated services available to street sex workers which build trust, have available resources, enable further educational options, engage in outreach and are accessible to street sex workers.
At the time of writing, though, they did note that their existing research was hampered by the absence of baseline measures, absence of control groups within the existing research literature and difficulties in following up whether exit was permanent or situational in the context of 'former' street sex workers.
Yet, as noted above, Auckland City Council refuses to provide funding to organisations like Streetreach because they do not conform to its narrow, populist recriminalisation of soliciting 'solution' to street sex work in Papatoetoe/Hunter's Corner. Nor is it making any realistic attempt itself to provide meaningful education, vocational training, employment, substance abuse treatment or housing issues that Manukau's street sex workers, whether transsexual or cisgender, so urgently need.
Whatever other solutions need to emerge, neither the Manukau City (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill or Asenati Lole-Taylor's Prostitution Reform (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill represent realistic or convincing solutions and the Auckland City Council under Len Brown has yet to convince me that such prohibitionist, moral panic-fuelled legislation will ever do so.
Pat Mayhew and Elaine Mossman: "Exiting Prostitution- Models of Best Practise" Ministry of Justice/Prostitution Law Review Committee (2007): http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/commercial-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-law-review-committee-publication
"Vexed issue of sex in the city" New Zealand Herald: 07.06.2013: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1 Craig Young - 28th June 2013