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There Is Supply, Then There Is Demand

An Opinion Piece by Dayna Berghan
National Women's Rights Officer
New Zealand University Students' Association.

Front page of Friday's paper (The Dominion, Friday, April 27, 2001). On the top left hand side is the brief of the Hawera Massage parlour that donated $5 for every customer on Anzac Day to the local RSA. The quote by the parlour owner "Those men fought for us. Giving them a few dollars is the very least people can do" misses the point in my opinion.

This year we mark the passing of a prominent New Zealand woman, Elsie Locke. Ms Locke is most noted World War II campaign to stop New Zealand troops from visiting brothels overseas and catching syphilis. She handed out cards on railway platforms recommending abstinence or safe brothels to visit. The men would visit brothels overseas, catch syphilis then come back home and give it their wives. Women's groups in New Zealand decried Locke and the prostitutes in the brothels as home breakers.

The Contagious Diseases Act 1952 encouraged soldiers to identify the prostitute who passed the infection on. She was hauled into the doctors surgery, shot full of medicine, charged as a prostitute and sent on her way, nothing happened to the solider that dobbed her in.

Back to the above quote and why it has missed the point; the soldiers weren't fighting for the prostitutes at all, they were fighting for a country that did not permit any protection for prostitutes. And it seems that nothing has changed.

At the moment the Justice Select Committee is hearing submissions on the Prostitution Law Reform Bill. According to the report in the Dominion, the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards labelled prostitutes as predators pedalling a morally repugnant trade. The Christian Heritage Party was there also; their leader used bible quotes to explain why prostitution should not be legal.

I have heard these arguments somewhere before. Oh yes, that's right, in these same groups condemnation of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill back in the 1980s. The same reasons were touted - such as God's word in the bible and the supposed lewd acts that homosexuals commit everyday in public conveniences.

If you would like to view these or any other submission made on that Bill take a trip to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington and check out the Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand (LAGANZ). What amazes me is that both these groups headed by men are marching under the banner for social good and morality, yet they are denying basic freedoms and protection from the law and society to individuals. Enter the National Prostitutes Collective (NPC).

The NPC estimates that the sex industry in New Zealand comprises nearly 8,000 workers, most of these are women. In her article, "Feminism and Sex Work: Connections and Contradictions" by Jan Jordan, found in "Feminist Voices" edited by Rosemary Du Plessis (1992), there is an analysis of the sex industry in New Zealand. Streetwalkers are more vulnerable to rape and mugging than women who work in hotels and parlours. However the latter cannot be assumed to be without risk. Client aggression and no right of refusal if the worker decides not to see the client are some of the risks.

Women who do escort jobs to private homes can also face high risks. You cannot ascertain in advance the mental state of the caller or the number of men who might be present at the address. Then there are the health risks. Whilst the majority of sex workers insist on the use of condoms, clients may have different ideas. And here is where the Prostitution Law Reform Bill comes in. This bill seeks to gain prostitutes some of the rights other workers take for granted. Protection from the law if the worker refuses a client, taking away the stigma attached to prostitutes to report rape and violence. It is currently illegal to solicit for prostitution, but it is not illegal to drive around in your car asking anyone off the street for sex. Basic economics says that if there is a demand then supply will follow.

So why with all the risks and no protection from the law or support from society do women still go into prostitution? Jordan tells us that it is sheer economic hardship that drives women into prostitution. She says: "While men persist in regarding a woman's sexuality as her most prized and valuable commodity, and while patriarchal control of labour relations continues to marginalise women economically, prostitution will remain a viable alternative to many women." (Page 185).

Who is the main opposition to the Prostitution Law Reform? - It is the male dominated hierarchies, the church and the moral protection leagues. The same men who opposed homosexuality and women's suffrage. It will be the same men who keep the mother supplementing her Domestic Purposes Benefit, the student not granted the Emergency Unemployment Benefit (E.U.B) and the woman who has no access to enabling education facing risks on the street and stigma in society when they need help. There simply can be no justification for the denial of basic human rights of so many by the prejudice and misconceptions of so few.

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