Sex workers feel safer

Sex workers are happier and healthier since their occupation was decriminalised seven years ago, says a University of Otago public health researcher.

Gillian Abel's book, Taking the Crime out of Sex Work, asserts sex workers are more able to insist on safe sex, and more likely to report violence to police.

"Decriminalisation has also provided sex workers with more tools to manage their work environment.

"With knowledge of their employment rights, brothel workers are better able to assert these rights with brothel operators and clients."

Ms Abel drew on interviews with 772 sex workers, including detailed interviews with 58.

Interviewees were drawn from Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, Napier, and Nelson.

Having their "human rights recognised" made them happier in their jobs, as well as safer, Ms Abel said.

Those on the street rather than in brothels - about 10% of sex workers - were the most vulnerable to violence.

A proportion would continue to opt for street work to avoid sharing their income with brothel owners, Ms Abel said.

Relations with police had improved, particularly between police and street workers.

Stigma was still attached to their occupation, and there was no evidence to suggest that more felt comfortable telling friends and family about their job since decriminalisation, Ms Abel said.

A private sex worker, "Josie", interviewed for the book, said decriminalisation made the industry safer.

"We're not invisible people. We are human beings, and if we're being attacked, we have the right also to the same protection as anyone else.

"I must say when the law changed, it did turn, it did make it even easier because you could just ring the police and just say, you know, and they'd be up there like a shot."

Street and private sex worker "Joyce" said a visible police presence was now in evidence in red-light areas.

"We've been having more patrol cars going down the street ...

Before [the law change] they just didn't care.

You know, if a girl, if a worker gets raped or, you know, anything like that ... there wasn't much they could do."



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