Protection of sex workers advocated

Catherine Healy, New Zealand Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator, speaks in Dunedin...
Catherine Healy, New Zealand Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator, speaks in Dunedin yesterday. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
That view was yesterday advanced by Catherine Healy, national co-ordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, who was addressing the Australia-New Zealand Association of Leisure Studies conference at the University of Otago.

Her talk, to about 70 conference-goers, was titled "The oldest trick: 'I'm just popping out for a walk!' Leisure and the sex industry".

Ms Healy, of Wellington, is a founding member of the Prostitutes Collective, which was established in 1987 to promote the rights, health and safety of sex workers.

In February last year, she was in a winning team at the Oxford Union that won a debate focusing on the proposition "That this house should decriminalise prostitution".

She was the first New Zealander to be invited to the Oxford Union Debate, in England, since the late David Lange spoke there in 1985.

In a wide-ranging and often witty presentation yesterday, Ms Healy said versions of the "I'm just popping out for a walk" line had been used many times by clients, including married men, to cover furtive visits to massage parlours.

Ms Healy, who is an author and former school teacher, said the collective was always looking for "some new friends".

"We've been rejected rather a lot," she said.

The Prostitution Law Reform Act had come into effect in 2003 and had decriminalised sex work and significantly improved the protection of sex workers.

"New Zealand is world-leading in its approach to sex workers." Official reviews of the Act had shown there had since been no increase in overall prostitution or in underage sex workers.

Over the years, New Zealand sex workers had also played a major role in promoting safe sex and reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Ms Healy jokingly suggested conference-goers should "stick to your day jobs" and emphasised "the majority of people aren't out there paying for sex" since the law had been changed.

Despite the progressive legislation, New Zealand sex workers remained "betwixt and between, not quite out, not quite in".

A continuing lack of acceptance of the role of sex workers in the leisure industry was reflected by the excessively strict approach to bylaws involving the siting of brothels by some city councils, including in Auckland and Christchurch, where such moves have since been successfully challenged through the courts.

New Zealand had "done a better job of taking care of the wellbeing of sex workers" but the reform legislation could not be taken for granted.

Human trafficking for the sex industry had not been a problem in New Zealand and immigration authorities remained alert to prevent this.

Nevertheless, some US authorities took the view that the New Zealand legislation did not help in countering international trafficking, and pressure could eventually be applied to change the law, she said.

• This is the first time the Association of Leisure Studies conference has been held in Dunedin, and 138 people are attending, about 100 from abroad.



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