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May 2021 research of NZPC: “Did violence increase following decriminalisation in New Zealand? Reply to claims by Equality Model”
This is new official research of NZPC: Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Workers’ Collective, which replies to Equality Model claim that violence against sex workers did not reduce following decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand.
This research was made via enquiry of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”.
Authors of the research:
Dame Catherine Healy, National Co-ordinator NZPC: Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Workers Collective;
Calum Bennachie PhD, Research and Community Liaison NZPC: Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Workers Collective.
Date of completion: 27th of May 2021
Full research with all data and references is available by this link
Findings of the research
Did violence increase following decriminalisation in New Zealand?
Reply to claims by Equality Model
Equality Model, a US organisation pushing for the adoption of the Swedish model of prostitution policy, has made several claims in respect of New Zealand’s model of decriminalisation, and in relation to decriminalisation in general (Equality Model, 2020). There are several other similar organisations who are also campaigning for the repressive (Östergren, 2017) Swedish model who use these same arguments. They claim that violence against sex workers did not reduce following decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand, which operates an integrative (Östergren, 2017) policy.
In this paper, we examine what research has to say in respect to the claims of Equality Model and the similar organisations.
There are a number of research articles that can be drawn upon to investigate these claims. Although published in 2001, the data for Plumridge and Abel (2001) was obtained in 1999 from 303 female sex workers in Christchurch. This was four years prior to decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand and therefore this data sets a baseline for violence against sex workers in New Zealand prior to decriminalisation. The data for Abel, Fitzgerald and Brunton (2007) was gathered between mid-2006 and mid-2007, from 772 female, male, and transgender sex workers in 5 centres in New Zealand. At the time, this was one of the largest samples of sex workers in a research project. Gillian Abel’s (2010) thesis also draws upon this data. This data can be used as a post-decriminalisation comparison to the baseline data.
The Prostitution Law Review Committee (PLRC) was instituted as a result of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA). The legislation required that it be reviewed within 5 years to see what its impact was on sex workers. The PLRC members included a former Police Commissioner, people of faith-based backgrounds, people from ministries and government departments, people from non-governmental organisations, and representatives from NZPC. All people had to be nominated by the respective minister, such as the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Local Government, etc. The Committee reported in both 2004 and again in 2008. The 2004 report set a baseline for events after decriminalisation, to which the 2008 report can be compared.
The Committee’s 2007 report included data from Abel, Fitzgerald, and Brunton (2007) and other academics from the Crime and Justice Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington (CJRC), as well as data the committee itself obtained through meetings with sex workers and others involved in sex work in New Zealand. The PLRC report is used by Equality Model (2020) to try to prove their claims.
The Equality Model claims that “rates of violence did not decrease when the sex trade was legalized”. Sex work was decriminalised in New Zealand, not legalised, but violence did indeed decrease following decriminalisation. The claims of Equality Model are therefore false.
In the experience of NZPC, sex workers are more likely to report issues to the authorities than prior to decriminalisation, and are therefore more likely to seek justice for wrongdoings against them. However, in order to test whether sex workers are more likely, data from Plumridge and Abel (2001) and Abel, Fitzgerald and Brunton (2007) can again be compared.
Although nationally there was little difference between the perceived opinions, for female sex workers in Christchurch in 1999 when the Data was collected, 18.2% believed most of the police cared for their safety. This increased by 2.6% for female sex workers in Christchurch in 2007. Nevertheless, while this is a small increase, 57.3% of respondents believed police attitudes towards sex workers had improved following decriminalisation. For street-based sex workers nationwide, 65.8% of respondents believed this, and for sex workers in Christchurch, 61.2% believed police attitudes towards sex workers had improved since decriminalisation. This indicates that sex workers are more likely to report violence against them as their trust in the police has increased. Furthermore, interviews by CJRC for the PLRC stated that the majority of these key informants “felt sex workers were more likely to report incidents of violence to the Police” (PLRC, 2008, p14). The Equality Model (2020), using the PLRC report, claims that sex workers are not “more likely to report to authorities violence they experienced” following decriminalisation. This is, once again, false, and the claim contradicts what is in the research they cite.
Recent occurrences indicate that sex workers are more willing to make complaints to protect their rights and to reduce violence. For example, in 2014 the Human Rights Review Tribunal decided in favour of a sex worker who had complained to the Human Rights Commission that the operator of the brothel she worked at had been sexually harassing her. After investigation, the Human Rights Review Tribunal found in her favour that the language used by the operator constituted sexual harassment and awarded her $25,000 (DML v Montgomery, 2014). Furthermore, in 2020, the Director of Human Rights Proceedings, Michael Timmins, announced through a press release that a six-figure settlement had been reached between a sex worker who had filed sexual harassment proceedings and another business owner (Timmins, 2020).
Although rape is generally accepted to be difficult to report to the police, a sex worker went further and reported a case of rape by stealthing. She had consented to sex with a condom, but the person pretending to be a client removed the condom. The first time, she caught him, told him off, reminded him of the law, and resumed service. However, despite being warned and told he would face prosecution, he again removed the condom. As soon as she discovered this the sex worker complained to the police who prosecuted the man on a charge of rape. The man was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. As the man is an immigrant on a work visa, he faces deportation once his sentence is complete (Harris, 2020a). Analysis of the conviction indicates that it is because of the way the Prostitution Reform Act is written that a conviction was attained (Harris, 2020b).
Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that a number of people do indeed feel that it is difficult to report violence or other incidents to the police and other authorities. As the Prostitution Law Review Committee notes “Stigmatisation plays a key role in the non-reporting of incidents” (PLRC, 2008, p 58). Campaigns such as those run by Equality Model that repeat falsehood instead of fact are a key driver of that stigmatisation.
One measure of how safe sex workers feel is a measure of feeling that they can refuse a client. In 1999, 37% of private workers in Christchurch felt they could refuse a client in the 12 months prior to the study. In 2007, this had increased to 62%, almost double. Another measure of how safe sex workers feel is whether or not they actually refused a client. In 1999, 47% of managed workers had actually refused a client in the 12 months prior to the study, while in 2007, this had increased to 68%. Equality Model claim that sex workers did not “report feeling safer” following decriminalisation. Once again, this claim has been demonstrated to be false.
Equality Model and others often reply upon taking the Report of the PLRC out of context, or blatantly misciting it. They continually ignore the conclusion of the PLRC (2008):
“the sex industry has not increased in size, and many social evils predicted by those 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”.
We stand by this conclusion
NZPC: Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Workers’ Collective