Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The re-criminalising poor sex workers bill

It has another, more euphamistic name (Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill), but what it is actually doing is re-criminalising poor sex workers.

This bill will make it an arrestable crime, punishable with a $2,000 fine, to buy or sell sex outside of a brothel in areas decided by the Manakau City Council (if it goes through it'll be the Auckland super city council).

It is specifically targeting street sex workers. Street sex workers do not generally have $2,000 to pay a fine. The fines, when they're awarded, won't have the magic power to stop someone being poor and working as a sex worker, it'll just make them poorer. It won't make street sex work disappear, it'll just make it harder, more dangerous, and more marginalised.

It'll give police officers, like Peter Govers and Nathan Connolly more power over some women. And whatever else your politics, that is reason enough to oppose this bill.

I would like to take a brief moment to draw your attention to a new reactionary tendancy on this issue within the Greens (who block voted for prostitution law reform). Two of the Green MPs voted for the bill and Russell Norman abstained (because he thought I needed another reason to hate him).

Three parties block voted (Act and National supported the attacks, the Maori party opposed them), Labour and the Greens split their votes. Nanaia Mahuta was the only woman from either of these parties to vote for criminalising poor women who work as sex workers. Now it physically pains me to say nice things about Labour and Green MPs, but I want to give credit to the feminist analysis and solidarity that those who opposed these bill showed. It shouldn't be noteworthy that women MPs voted the way they did. But the extent to which their male colleagues accepted criminalising women who were already marginalised as an acceptable side effect of protecting small businesses (as the rhetoric in defence of hte bill is all the poor shop owners whose lives are made harder by the fact that sex work happens near them), means that it is noteworthy in the context in which they're operating.

The contempt that those who voted for this bill have for sex workers comes through in the parliamentary debate. George Hawkins uses the language of 'plague' to describe street sex work - which is about as dehumanising as you can get. Others demonstrate their contempt through sneering and patronising - and claim that this bill is necessary to stop underage sex work.*

A few months ago I read this article about American criminal approaches to sex work, and I was horrified. How can anyone who stands in solidarity with women say that being criminalised in this way helps anyone?

I understand that there are nuanced feminist positions on sex work. But I don't think good feminist analysis of any kind, can possibly endorse life being made harder for poor sex workers.

* No I don't get it either. How driving street sex work underground magically stops kids from being sex workers wasn't explained.

16 comments:

ScubaNurse said...

A wonderful post, thank you.

Xavier said...

This is a really good summary of everything that is wrong with this Bill. Kia ora. I'm more than alarmed that members of the Greens supported its first reading...

Rachel said...

Where can we see a list of how people voted? Very disturbing bill.

Maia said...

Thanks!

Rachel - No Right Turn has a list, and Hansard also records them at the end of the debate here. I thought that the speeches by Kevin Hague and Te Ururoa Flavell were worth reading.

I.M Fletcher said...

Really?? Poor sex workers?
Frankly, I was appalled when the largely feminist Labour Govt passed the bill legalizing prostitution, which is basically the using and abusing of women for money. I don't see how any feminist can tolerate it.

We should adopt the Swedish model and prosecute the men buying. According to a new report it has done wonders over there.

today's report, a comprehensive evaluation of the Swedish law, conducted by an independent commission appointed by the government, and led by the chancellor of justice (the highest legal officer in Sweden) shows that legislation criminalising demand has been a resounding success. The evaluation concludes that, since the law came in to force in 1999, the number of women involved in street prostitution has halved, whereas neighbouring countries such as Denmark and Norway have seen a sharp rise; that there is no evidence of an increase in off-street prostitution; and that, despite a significant increase in prostitution in the neighbouring countries during the past 10 years, there is no evidence of a similar increase in Sweden.

Advertising of prostitution through the internet has increased in Sweden, as it has in other countries. This is not due to the law, the evaluation concludes, but to the development of online technology generally. Again, there is far more web advertising in neighbouring countries. The commission looked at abuse and coercion in the industry and found that, contrary to the opinion of Schaffauser and others, criminalising buyers does not lead women to pimps.

The commission, which took evidence from women currently in prostitution, those who had left the sex trade, police, social workers and other key stakeholders, also found that the law functioned as a barrier against the establishment of traffickers and pimps in Sweden, and had led to a reduction in organised crime.

The law has strong public support among the public in Sweden, has led to a significant positive change in attitudes, and acts as a deterrent for potential buyers. A 2008 study found that only 8% of Swedish men had paid for sex, compared with 13.6% before the law came into force.

Despite misgivings that the law would result in prostitution going underground, no evidence whatsoever was uncovered during the evaluation to substantiate this. Police and prosecutors, many of whom were resistant to the law in the early days, confirm that it has been good for the country and has reduced criminal activity. Importantly, because those selling sexual services were decriminalised at the same time as buyers were criminalised, it has proved easier for the women to leave the sex trade and seek the support available from projects.

Anonymous said...

Good post Maia.

I.M Fletcher - the 'evaluation' into the Swedish model excluded the voices of sex workers who have been forced to work in isolation as a result of the law. Only a very small number of sex workers were consulted, making the conclusions rather meaningless. Check out this link http://www.thelocal.se/27962/20100723/ for a more comprehensive critique of the evaluation.

Lynzi

James said...

Actually IM Fletcher....consenting prostitution is actually Women exploiting Mens more overt need of sexual satisfaction...for quite tidy sums...certainly more than most other Women would earn in other areas of work.If done consentually the act of prostitution is no different to any other market transaction.

If its ok for Dan Carter to sell his body for money on the rugby field then why can't a Women sell hers to a willing buyer? Is your hang up over feminine sexuality and the fear of it slipping from under the control of pious paternalists such as you appear to be?

Prostitution involves sex and free enterprise...which part do you have the issue with? If the only difference between a one night stand after a Friday night out clubbing and an act of prostitution is the leaving of a hundred odd dollars on the bed side table before leaving then the issue for you is what exactly?

Personally I think this is one of the very few things Labour got nearly right when in office.The recognition of a Womans right to control and use her body as she sees fit.The real issue in Manukau is one of property rights and the failure of public ownership to avoid conflict over the use of "public" land.Prostitutes are the public too...and while its public land they have every right to use it to trade sex with willing men in exchange for money.If these Women happily went with the men for free (in effect the one night stand scenario) just what crime or threat to public order could you possibly raise to justify involving the law? The payment of money does not in itself constitute a crime surely?

Mikaere Curtis said...

I agree, this bill will serve to marginalise street-working sex workers.

Interesting points from the bill:

* It is only street workers. You can still operate a brothel within the zone.
* Clients are subject to criminal conviction as well. This is likely to have a chilling effect on demand.

If it passes, then you can expect a whack-a-mole escalation as sex workers move from one location to another as more areas are subject to the ban. This would be similar to the progress of liquor bans that now litter metropolitan Auckland.

This could, in fact, be the entire point. Sex clients seek out places where sex workers gather in numbers. If the sex workers are geographically isolated, the sex clients would be more inclined to use brothels, encouraging street sex workers to seek out their own brothel arrangements.

I am also disappointed that some Green MPs voted for this bill, and will be raising this with them.

CR said...

Don't get your knickers in a twist.

This local Bill was endorsed by the Manakau City Council, who were elected by the people of Manakau. It makes sense that it goes to Select Committee so that their views can be heard and this happens with most local Bills by convention.

I would be suprised if any member of the Green Party voted for the second reading.

I think you also need to be careful about charcterising sex workers as neccessarily poor.

Vero said...

I am sure that the citizens of Manakau will be perturbed to hear their town is such a hotbed of prostitution.

But then perhaps you are talking about Manukau?

And how do you know they are poor?

It must be all that TAX and GST and ACC they are paying..

I.M Fletcher said...

James, women in that business are often kept there dependant on drugs, treated with violence, raped etc.
It's also tied to human trafficking.


Prostitution is:

a) sexual harassment
b) rape
c) battering
d) verbal abuse
e) domestic violence
f) a racist practice
g) a violation of human rights
h) childhood sexual abuse
i) a consequence of male domination of women
j) a means of maintaining male domination of women
k) all of the above


More at prostitutionresearch.com. It's not good for women.

Anonymous said...

I.M Fletcher - these arguments have been discredited many times over. Have a read through this debate:
http://www.economist.com/debate/debates/overview/182?fsrc=scn/tw/te/db/prostitution

Lynzi

Maia said...

So comments here have taken a term for the all over the place.

Just a few points - I used the phrase 'poor sex workers' to signify that this bill is targetted at street sex workers - who generally have less resources than sex workers who work in brothels and so on.

IM Fletcher - get on topic. This is not about the generalised evils about prostitution. Even if prostitution was always everything you say it was, and was unique in those qualities (I'm not necessarily that far away from you in the first, but a long, long, long way away in the second). That doesn't justify criminalising sex workers. Please focus your discussion on this bill.

James - you use the word 'exploitation' I do not think it means what you think it means.

Miakere - I agree that it would create the same situation that is created with liquor bans. Possibly they're reasoning is that this would somehow lead to a reduced demand. However, I think they're very wrong, obviously.

Anonymous said...

The Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specificed Places) Bill is horrendous.

Recriminalising soliciting street based sex workers will push them underground, and undo the good work of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003.

The Ministry of Justice 2008 research reported by Prostitution Law Reveiew Committee recommended.

Legislative approaches that aim to criminalise street-based sex workers should be avoided.

Street-based sex workers should be supported to work safely and with consideration for local communities.

Street-based sex workers should be encouraged to find alternatives to street-based sex work. NGOs should be adequately funded to facilitate this.

Local government should adopt practical solutions to manage areas used by street-based sex workers and their clients.

http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy-and-consultation/legislation/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/8-street-based-sex-workers#851

Why is this propoganda targeting street based sex workers who are the most marginalised group?

Street based sex workers can't afford $2000.00. How do you expect them to pay these fines? Workers would go out and work, get picked up, fined, work, fined, then can't pay the fines, and end up arrested, criminalised thrown back in jail?

Manuku City Council prohibits sex workers from working indoors. The only place you can work as a sex worker in Counties Manukau are in zones 4,5 and 6. These are zones that are in commercial areas/industrial areas under the district plan.

http://www.manukau.govt.nz/SiteCollectionDocuments/Chapter%203%20Brothels.pdf

The comments from the misinformed bloggers about the Swedish Model won't work. It doesn't work in Sweden, and wouldn't work in NZ.

This is a NZ issue, with NZ sex workers researched, which researched legislation around sex work overseas. What part don't you understand?

The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 is the most liberal legislations around protecting the rights of sex workers in the globe.

How many of you that have commented on this blog have met a real sex worker?

How many of you have walked in the shoes of sex workers?

Do you know what it's like to be arrested for condoms and lube in your bag, when all your doing is protecting yourself with the tools of the trade in your work environment?

I know what it's like, I've been in those shoes. I constantly hear taunts from feminists, academics, politicians, society, who are misinformed on the lives of sex workers.

Sex workers who work are in my life everday,comment why does society continue to stigmatise us?Pigen hole us, like we're aliens from space?

Try to imagine what it's like to look in the mirror at yourself and ask what's wrong with you?
Treat people how you want to be treated.

Parable in the Bible:

He/She that is without sin among you, let him/her first cast a stone at her. And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground."

"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst."

"When Jesus had lifted up Himself, and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?"

"She said, No man, Lord."

"And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." (John 8:2-11 KJV)

My experience as a sex worker, who knows sex workers pre/post law reform, are safe now then they ever were before.

If you want to make a difference, I'd urge you to write/lobby your local MP's/Select Committeee against the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill.

Submissions close on Friday, 5th November 2010.
http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/SC/MakeSub/1/8/b/49SCLGE_SCF_00DBHOH_BILL10290_1-Manukau-City-Council-Regulation-of.htm

Santana

Anonymous said...

The Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specificed Places) Bill is horrendous.

Recriminalising soliciting street based sex workers will push them underground, and undo the good work of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003.

The Ministry of Justice 2008 research reported by Prostitution Law Reveiew Committee recommended.

Legislative approaches that aim to criminalise street-based sex workers should be avoided.

Street-based sex workers should be supported to work safely and with consideration for local communities.

Street-based sex workers should be encouraged to find alternatives to street-based sex work. NGOs should be adequately funded to facilitate this.

Local government should adopt practical solutions to manage areas used by street-based sex workers and their clients.

http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy-and-consultation/legislation/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/8-street-based-sex-workers#851

Why is this propoganda targeting street based sex workers who are the most marginalised group?

Street based sex workers can't afford $2000.00. How do you expect them to pay these fines? Workers would go out and work, get picked up, fined, work, fined, then can't pay the fines, and end up arrested, criminalised thrown back in jail?

Manuku City Council prohibits sex workers from working indoors. The only place you can work as a sex worker in Counties Manukau are in zones 4,5 and 6. These are zones that are in commercial areas/industrial areas under the district plan.

http://www.manukau.govt.nz/SiteCollectionDocuments/Chapter%203%20Brothels.pdf

The comments from the misinformed bloggers about the Swedish Model won't work. It doesn't work in Sweden, and wouldn't work in NZ.

This is a NZ issue, with NZ sex workers researched, which researched legislation around sex work overseas. What part don't you understand?

The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 is the most liberal legislations around protecting the rights of sex workers in the globe.

How many of you that have commented on this blog have met a real sex worker?

How many of you have walked in the shoes of sex workers?

Do you know what it's like to be arrested for condoms and lube in your bag, when all your doing is protecting yourself with the tools of the trade in your work environment?

I know what it's like, I've been in those shoes. I constantly hear taunts from feminists, academics, politicians, society, who are misinformed on the lives of sex workers.

Sex workers who work are in my life everday,comment why does society continue to stigmatise us?Pigeon hole us, like we're aliens from space?

Try to imagine what it's like to look in the mirror at yourself and ask what's wrong with you? Take a good look at yourself.
Treat people how you want to be treated.

My experience as a sex worker, who knows sex workers pre/post law reform, are safe now then they ever were before.

If you want to make a difference, I'd urge you to write/lobby your local MP's/Select Committeee against the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill.

Submissions close on Friday, 5th November 2010.
http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/SC/MakeSub/1/8/b/49SCLGE_SCF_00DBHOH_BILL10290_1-Manukau-City-Council-Regulation-of.htm

Santana

Anonymous said...

“Mens more overt need of sexual satisfaction...”
It's often assumed that men have a greater biological imperative for sex; but one cannot ignore the cultural context. Women who assert their sexual desires have been shamed with labels like “whore” and “slut”. Men who assert their sexual desires have been praised. That men genuinely need more sexual satisfaction is dubious.

Women are taught that they can either give or exchange sex. Men are taught that they receive sex. Women and men alike are taught that women's value comes from sexual objectification. You can't pass a billboard, turn on the Television, read a newspaper or go to a corner store dairy without being bombarded with images that reinforce this idea. It's social brainwashing. This is why one of the few industries where women on the whole earn more than men is the sex industry.

In this context, no, a woman doesn't really have a right to control and use her body as she sees fit by having the freedom to practice prostitution.

We should address the issue of women's sexuality at a more fundamental level, through education and media regulation. Maybe one day both women and men alike will be able to possess their own sexuality. Until then, it's not a fair market transaction.

That said, making prostitution illegal is not the answer. In the Swedish context, by making prostitution illegal for clients, they drive away the “decent” client and instead attract the kind of client who does not respect the law. With that you see a rise in all the factors that I.M Fletcher listed, like assault. As for the bill, the better clients will tend to use the brothels. Fining the clients rather than the workers is a smarter approach. It discourages street prostitution while allowing poor workers to go to the police if they have concerns for their safety.