|Does the existing Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 go far enough to protect sex workers rights? If not, what needs to be done?
This article may seem premature, given that the Manukau antisoliciting bill threatens to ban street sex workers in that municipality. Moreover, existing Manukau City Council by-laws also prohibit sex workers from working from rental accommodation. The Prostitutes Collective has suggested that bar patrons may be accountable for the run-down state of Manukau's city centre, as well as council toilet closure policies. Hone Harawira and Dr Pita Sharples have also commented that this bill will harshly impact on impoverished Maori mothers who resort to street sex work, as well as transgender street sex workers.
Clearly, the Manukau antisoliciting bill must be defeated as it constitutes a source of harm to these vulnerable women. But what should follow it? And how can the Prostitution Law Reform Act or other legislation be strengthened to prevent its repetition again at some future date?
Australia is an acknowledged world leader in sex workers rights. Indeed, New Zealand's own Prostitution Law Reform Act is based on similar legislative reforms carried out in New South Wales. The PLRA decriminalises street sex work, brothel work and ownership, living off the proceeds and imposes a duty of occupational health and safety provision on sex worker venue management. So, what else should be done?
Writing in Australia's Monthly, Emily Maguire notes that the Scarlet Alliance's Elena Jeffreys supports further reforms like multilingual education resources and temporary work visa categories to improve occupational health and safety for migrant sex workers and prevent exploitative 'trafficking.'
Adding gender identity to antidiscrimination laws also occurred within all Australian states and territories over the last decade, although New Zealand trans community members have to deal with a Crown Law Office that reads gender identity discrimination into anti-discrimination laws that relate to gender. As the Human Rights Commission's Transgender Inquiry noted, many New Zealand trans community members are dissatisfied at this compromise.
However, what about adding 'occupational category' as an additional grounds to antidiscrimination laws like the Human Rights Act 1993 and the hate crimes provisions of the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act, or adding sex work as an explicit criterion in itself? This has occurred in Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory and prevents sex workers from having to deal with rental accomodation discrimination (as is the case under Manukau's bylaws and the current Manukau antisoliciting bill), obstacles to movement out of the sex industry and substandard medical treatment (although New Zealand sex workers can invoke the Code of Health and Disability Consumers Rights in this context, though).
To me, this seems a logical next step. Much depends on whether the occupational category or sex worker-specific model is the best legislative strategy. Occupational category coverage might also incorporate enhanced protection for other at-risk occupational groups, like police, emergency medical workers and doctors. Perhaps both might be advisable.
Given that it has been seventeen years since the last expansion of the Human Rights Act, we need further attention to whether it meets contemporary community needs.
Emily Maguire: "Body Politic" Monthly 60 : September 2010: 36-39 Craig Young - 6th December 2010