A celebration is being held at Parliament today to mark the fifth anniversary of the decriminalisation of prostitution.
The day-long programme in the Beehive has been dubbed as Going all the way: an event to reflect on decriminalisation. It will involve panel discussions and will focus on the issues still affecting sex workers.
New Zealand became one of the first countries to decriminalise prostitution on this day in 2003. The new law only just passed through Parliament by 60 votes to 59, with Labour's Muslim MP Ashraf Choudhary angering many by abstaining from the final vote.
During the fifth anniversary of the legalization of prostitution in New Zealand, what has come to light are the positive feelings of sex workers who feel protected and safe under the new law.
The Prostitution Reform Act has put health and safety guidelines for prostitutes in place and according to the act, prostitutes must practice safe sex. They are also covered under employment law.
A follow up of the benefits of such an act conducted by the Justice Ministry found that 90% of sex workers were happy with the legislation. More importantly prostitutes were in a better position to bring violence and abuse to notice.
People in this business are now out in the light, there are many people and agencies who are able to help, committee chairman Paul Fitzharris said.
Prostitutes were happy that the law had enhanced their working conditions. A prostitute said: One of the biggest advantages of the law is having legal back-up. From time to time you get clients who want to have sex without protection. Generally they
accept [having to wear a condom] but if they try and keep on arguing, you have some basis to tell them to leave.
What can the UK learn from New Zealand's approach to sex workers? Quite a lot, actually. On Wednesday June 25, sex workers and brothel operators mingled in parliament with a range of people – Catholic nuns, public health experts, and politicians – to
mark the 5th anniversary of the decriminalisation of prostitution. Even the prime minister, Helen Clark, dropped in to pass comment on the success of giving rights to sex workers.
Throughout the day, participants heard from researchers who had been commissioned by the ministry of justice – included in the legislation was a requirement that a committee, appointed by the justice minister, be established to review the law and to
assess its impact on the sex industry within five years. It was no surprise to me that these researchers found overwhelming evidence to contradict the wild claims of opponents to the Prostitution Reform Act. Opponents had claimed that, as a consequence
of liberalising the law, brothels would create havoc in every neighbourhood, with thugs moving in to traffic women and children. Yet none of these claims came true.
The overwhelming response to the legislation has been positive. Police have moved from clogging courts with prosecutions for soliciting to preventing violence against sex workers. As one said: Now, if I have any trouble, I can pull out my phone and
call the cops, and they will come.
We may be a small country, but we are part of the Asia-Pacific rim with its dynamic migration patterns. Motivated by claims of trafficking, immigration officials have raided brothels, seeking victims. They haven't found any.
The chair of the prostitution law review committee – a retired Police commissioner and one time vice cop – said that people were gobsmacked when he told them the committee had found that many sex workers enjoy their work. Researchers confirmed that many
sex workers don't want rescuing – they want rights.
The committee concluded that the act has had a marked effect in safeguarding the human rights of sex workers and improving their occupational safety and health.
I believe the UK could reorient its laws to achieve this reality. And the sky won't fall in.
In terms of attitudes towards prostitution, New Zealand and Europe are almost as diametrically opposed as they are in geography. Kiwis
have opted for wholesale liberalisation of the sex trade, while Europeans are increasingly restricting it.
Does the New Zealand liberal approach provide a model or a warning? Henri Astier looks at its prostitution industry six years after decriminalisation,
Business is slower than before, partly because of the bad economy but also, according to government officials, due to the Anti-Sex
Trafficking Law, which was enacted five years ago amid great fanfare.
However, except for cosmetic changes, the lucrative sex trade is still very much around, experts say. The only difference is that since the law was enforced, the sex trade has evolved.
More visible outlets such as the one in Yeongdeungpo have taken the brunt of the law as have the once notorious neighborhoods of northern Seoul's Cheongnyangni and Mia-ri Texas, which are both scheduled for urban redevelopment.
A tell-tale sign that business was, if not booming, reasonably healthy came earlier this month when the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency announced it would transfer hundreds of police officers in southern Seoul. The move has been widely interpreted as an
effort to sever ties between the police and entertainment establishments offering sex services.
Nowadays, adding to the sex-for-cash businesses, hyugae-tel (resting rooms), where customers can call up sex workers and then later join them at another venue, are expanding rapidly, while commercial sex offered online, which is harder to track, is also
Still, government officials say the implementation of the law from five years ago has helped significantly reduce the scale of the sex industry.
If you look at the numbers, coming down from a 24 trillion won industry to a 14 trillion won one is a step forward, said Cho Sin-suk, an official at the Ministry of Gender Equality. According to ministry estimates, there were 269,000 active sex
workers in Korea in 2007, a decline from 320,000 five years earlier.
To try to curb prostitution, Korea introduced a special law in 2007 that gave the authorities the power to deny the issuance or renewal of passports to men who had a track record of purchasing sex.
In addition, the Ministry of Justice is running an education and awareness program for men who have been prosecuted for buying sex. Last year, 17,956 men took part in the program.
One of the problems facing the police is that it is very difficult to prosecute an individual for buying sex services because of the lack of evidence, a point highlighted by an Asia Foundation study in 2006: It has become a new trend in the sex
industry to use other body parts [hands] to perform sexual service without having intercourse. Up to now, the Korean courts have made different decisions on whether to regard this as sex trade or not, the study said.
A police officer who declined to be named admitted that the current focus of all crackdowns is geared toward the better known red-light districts as a successful campaign is more visible to the public.
We have limited resources and there is only so much you can do, said the officer: We know that when we close the red-light districts these women will just use another venue. There is no perfect solution.
The numbers seem to reflect the reality. In 2003, the number of men arrested for buying sex services stood at 12,737 but that number is expected to reach 40,000 this year.
Eradicating one of the oldest trades is perhaps a Sisyphean challenge for the government and law enforcement agencies, a task made doubly difficult by the ingrained attitude among many men that commercial sex is not wrong.
Three years ago, in a survey of 448 males by the Korean Institute of Criminology 58.5% said they had experienced buying sex at least once. In recent surveys conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality that number still hovers around the 50% mark.
You can't put a plug on sexual desire. People who look like they never would buy sex suddenly go wild once they get some alcohol in their system, said a salon-owner: This is almost a recession-proof business.
Sex workers in New Zealand expect to be rushed off their feet as 95,000 sports fans arrive for the Rugby World
Cup, with brothels across the country doubling condom orders for the tournament.
Mary Brennan, a dominatrix who runs a bondage brothel in Wellington and is known as Madam Mary to her clients, said she had already received pre-bookings from South Africa, England, Ireland and Canada.
The English are known to be particularly deviant, she said, citing the public school background of many England rugby fans. Whenever I hear an English accent I know there'll be some good business there.
New Zealand introduced some of the world's most liberal prostitution laws eight years ago, when sex work was decriminalised, allowing brothels and street workers to operate legally New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective
coordinator Catherine Healy said many visitors during the September 9-October 23 tournament would be surprised at how openly the industry operates.
A law that would have allowed Auckland authorities to ban prostitution in specified places has been scrapped by a New Zealand parliamentary select committee. Instead, councils have been urged to look at other ways to control street prostitutes, such as
using bylaws controlling hawkers . In recommending the local bill not pass, the committee said:
We consider, however, that the matters covered by the bill are not appropriate for a local bill because the problem the bill seeks to address is not unique to the area covered by the bill.
It would also affect the rights of the public in that it would impose constraints on the activities that can occur in specified areas within the Auckland district. Those activities are not specifically prohibited in any other parts of the country.
Many complaints about street-based prostitution relate to noise, littering, slow-moving motor vehicles (kerb-crawling) and disorderly behaviour. These kinds of behaviour can be dealt with by bylaws already in existence.
The committee said the bill would have challenged the legal meaning of the Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalised prostitution and among other things safeguarded the human rights of sex workers.