In 2003, the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act (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 June 2008 PRA statutory five year review 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.”
Findings of New Zealand’s 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.
The Council of Europe recommends that member states:
“ . . . refrain from criminalising and penalising prostitutes . . . respect the right of prostitutes who freely choose to work as prostitutes to have a say in any policies at national, regional and local level . . . ensure . . . access to safe sexual practices and enough independence to impose these on their clients”.
The recent UN Report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia noted that sex workers are part of the solution to preventing the spread of HIV, and advised countries to “avoid programs that accentuate AIDS-related stigma and can be counterproductive. Such programs may include ‘crack-downs’ on red-light areas and arrest of sex workers.”
There are few similarities between the UK and Sweden. Stockholm has a total urban area of only 1,252,020. Sweden criminalised men who buy sex in 1999. Sex workers were decriminalised but there is no proposal to do that in the UK. Claims that by reducing “demand” both trafficking and prostitution are reduced are countered by sex workers. (http://www.sans.nu/sans_eng.htm) who report that the industry is just less visible, more mobile (many women have moved to border towns) and therefore less safe. Whatever is claimed about the reduction in numbers there is no evidence of an improvement in safety or welfare for sex workers.
Since clients were criminalised in October 2007, the number of assaults on sex workers has soared. Attacks reported to one project have almost doubled from 66 in 2006 to 126 last year, including eight reported rapes and 55 violent assaults. The Scotsman 18 April 2008.
A much closer comparison can be made between the UK and the US. In the US both the selling and buying of sex is criminalised but there has been no reduction in prostitution or improvement in rights or safety for sex workers. Recent research from New York makes harrowing reading: 80% of street workers and 46% of indoor workers experienced violence or threats in the course of their work. More worryingly, 27% of street workers and 14% of indoor workers had experienced violence at the hands of police and 16% of indoor workers had been involved in sexual situations with the police. http://www.urbanjustice.org/pdf/publications/RevolvingDoorExecSum.pdf andhttp://www.urbanjustice.org/pdf/publications/BehindDoorsExecSum.pdf.
Commenting on the impact of US anti-trafficking law, Ann Jordan, Director of the Initiative against Trafficking in Persons Global Rights, testified before the US House of Representatives in March 2007 “over the last six years, the broad scope of the U.S. anti-trafficking policy has been gradually narrowed to fit an anti-prostitution agenda that is based on the unproven belief that all prostitution (even legal prostitution in Nevada) is trafficking. Criminalizing prostitution, as well as clients, is promoted as a purported means to stop prostitution and to stop trafficking for prostitution.
Jordan expressed concern that the US anti-prostitution campaign envisioned within the 2005 US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act encroaches upon anti-trafficking enforcement activities. This may well divert federal funding, investigators and prosecutors and badly-needed anti-trafficking resources to non-trafficking prostitution activities, potentially leaving traffickers free to operate with impunity and contributing to the stigma suffered by persons in the sex sector.
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Bill was recently defeated on the grounds that it “would have further stigmatized sex workers by criminalizing the purchase of sexual services.” Sex workers who vehemently opposed these measures, because it would “violate their human rights” commented: “While the political appeal of criminalizing clients of sex workers is clear, there is no evidence from any country that this is an effective strategy for preventing violence against sex workers.”
Under pressure from the United States, Cambodia outlawed prostitution in February this year. Under the new law, the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Law, brothels have closed or gone underground, along with bars, karaoke clubs and street areas. “Hundreds of women have been arrested, jailed or displaced, while dozens have been raped and beaten by police and prison guards. The HIV prevention and care programs that were working have collapsed. The law encourages trafficking and exploitation because it makes sex workers easier prey: the workers can no longer seek clients in public and must depend upon others to introduce them.” Account & video:http://www.blip.tv/file/953418/
Recent research from Vancouver found that: “The persistent relationship between enforcement of prostitution and drug use policies (e.g. confiscation of drug use paraphernalia without arrest, and enforced displacement to outlying areas) suggests that criminalization may enhance the likelihood of violence against street-based female sex workers.”
The English Collective of Prostitutes and the Safety First Coalition can be contacted at:
 Assembly debate on 4 October 2007 (35th Sitting) (see Doc. 11352, report of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, rapporteur: Mr Platvoet). Text adopted by the Assembly on 4 October 2007 (35th Sitting).
 “Those who are worst afflicted are unfortunately the most vulnerable sexworkers, the street prostitutes, addicts and sexworkers from other countries. On the streets the negotiations must happen a lot faster than before since the police can be around the corner. … it is therefore hard to do a correct risk assessment . . . if a customer meets a sexworker that he/she suspects is the victim of sexual trafficking, that person is today scared of going to the police. Before you could obtain evidence against traffickers and pimps based on customer’s testimony.” (http://www.sans.nu/sans_eng.htm)
 “Human Trafficking, Sex Work Safety and the 2010 Games”, June 10, 2009. Sex Industry Worker Safety Action Group, Canada.
 “Prevalence and structural correlates of gender based violence among a prospective cohort of female sex workers” Kate Shannon, assistant professor, T Kerr, assistant professor, S A Strathdee, professor and chair, J Shoveller, professor, J S Montaner, professor and director, M W Tyndall, associate professor, BMJ 2009; 339:b2939, bmj.com