Press Release: New Zealand marks five years of successful decriminalisation of prostitution


From SAFETY FIRST – A coalition to decriminalise sex work and prioritise safety.
Tel: 07811 964 171

Wednesday 25 June 2008: New Zealand marks five years of successful decriminalisation of prostitution.

On the fifth anniversary of the introduction of the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act (PRA), the NZ government has published a detailed evaluation report which confirms the positive impact of decriminalisation on sex workers’ rights and safety.

The PRA decriminalised prostitution of persons over 18 on grounds of “sex workers’ human rights, protection from exploitation and promotion of occupational health and safety“.  The PRA statutory five-year review has concluded that:

“The PRA has been in force for five years. During that time, the sex industry has not increased in size, and many of the social evils predicted by some who opposed the decriminalisation of the sex industry have not been experienced. On the whole, the PRA has been effective in achieving its purpose, and the Committee is confident that the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry are better off under the PRA than they were previously.”

On Wednesday, Catherine Healy, founding member and national coordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, together with politicians, campaigners, researchers and sex workers, will tell the story of New Zealand prostitution law reform. Ms Healy was a keynote speaker at the 16 January House of Commons public meeting, a high point in the successful campaign to force the UK government to drop anti-prostitution clauses in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.

Findings of the PRA report:

  • There has been no rise in numbers of women working, including of young people who feel able to contact agencies for help.
  • Sex workers are more likely to report incidents of violence to the police and other agencies. This was particularly true for the street workers.
  • There has been a change of attitude by members of the police. Some individual officers and some police districts, have gone out of their way to work with the sex industry, with Christchurch being the obvious example. However, stigmatisation still plays a key role in the non-reporting of incidents. This is the inevitable result of years of the sex industry operating illegally, with the police seen as posing a threat rather than offering protection.
  • Judges have ruled that sex workers are entitled to expect the same protection under the law as anyone else.
  • Attacks are cleared up more quickly as women are more likely to come forward with information without fear of arrest, making all women safer.
  • Women find it easier to leave prostitution as convictions have been cleared from their records.
  • It is easier for sex workers to refuse to have sex with a client.
  • Brothel owners are more supportive and less coercive to employees.

Why haven’t the tragic murders of five young women in Ipswich spurred the UK government into looking seriously at what has taken place in New Zealand?  Instead, it is pursuing repressive policies which are driving sex workers further underground increasing women’s vulnerability to violence.

While the authorities in Ipswich claim to have succeeded to get rid of the red light area, sex workers tell us that their decreased visibility has not increased their safety – they have moved to other areas or are working secretly indoors.

But the government seems spellbound by Swedish legislation to criminalise clients. It was pushed through in Sweden in 1999 by feminist politicians without any consultation with sex workers who say it has driven the sex industry underground and women into danger. In Scotland, assaults on sex workers have soared since clients have been criminalised. There used to be about eight reported a month to one outreach project, now it’s around three a night. The Scotsman, 18 April 2008.

Members of the Safety First Coalition and the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective are available for interview.

SF is co-ordinated by the English Collective of Prostitutes. It includes the Royal College of Nursing, bereaved families, Ipswich residents, church people, doctors, probation officers, anti-rape and anti-poverty campaigners, trade unionists, prison and drug reformers and sex worker projects.