In This Edition: Prostitution Law Reform Debate - The Human Rights Of Selling Sex – An Alternative Plan
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Sludge Report #87
Prostitution Law Reform Debate - Human Rights And Selling Sex
Recent discussion of prostitution law reform, and the relative merits of the misuse of the euphemism “Massage Parlour” on legitimate masseuses, Sludge thinks, has been making light of a matter that does not deserve to be treated with such levity.
In the context of such discussion, proposed reform of laws relating to prostitution is cast as if it is primarily a matter of commerce. That is, as if by decriminalising the “business” of prostitution, one of the principle effects will be to release legitimate massage businesses from unwanted public relations associations.
From a media perspective this issue of tone is significant. To the largely uninformed general public, brought up with the idyll of the “happy whore”, prostitution probably does seem to be “just another business”.
And if that were so, then the law reform issues in this area would be simple. But it is not true, and they are not.
Prostitution remains one of the most unpleasant areas of human oppression still existant in our society.
Many (possibly most) of the women involved in this industry are not involved as a matter of choice alone.
It may not be a matter that makes the headlines often, but there are sex slaves living and being exploited in NZ, today. Women, many of whom have been imported by gangs from Asia, who are held against their will as prisoners, and used by their “pimps” for profit.
Even in the “mainstream” arena of prostitution in New Zealand the scene is far from clean. There remains very close associations between the so-called “business of prostitution”, and organised crime, gangs, drug dealing, illegal gambling, loan-sharking and violence.
But that is not to say that prostitution law reform is therefore a law and order issue, though that is an important part of the picture.
In fact, in Sludge’s view, one of the worst aspects of the “business of prostitution” as currently configured in New Zealand, is that it is treated by and large as a law and order issue. As a result it is managed as an industry under the auspices of the police.
The police – almost 90% male – do not routinely concern themselves with the welfare of the participants in the industry during their supervision of it. Rather they see, and regularly use, prostitutes as informants.
Women involved in the industry are in effect then oppressed on two fronts.
Both from the male-dominated organised crime interests who dominate the “business” side of their industry, and by the also male-dominated police supervisors who tend to see them primarily as a means to obtain inside information on their employers.
And so the issue of prostitution law reform is not primarily one of commerce, but one of human rights.
And it is in this context that it ought to be debated, both in the current select committee process, and - in an ideal world - in the media.
Prostitution Law Reform – An Alternative Plan
When prostitution is considered as a human rights issue, involved primarily with emancipation, as opposed to an issue of commercial regulation, then the path law reform ought to take becomes far clearer.
Firstly it is apparent that the present agency responsible for supervision of the industry, the police, is a large part of the problem.
It is police involvement in the industry, driven by the criminality of the activity, that drives prostitution into the hands of the violence, avarice and greed of the men of organised crime.
Therefore prostitution should most certainly be decriminalised.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg of the problem from a public policy perspective.
It is necessary to go far further than simply loosening the legal noose.
Police supervision and involvement in the industry, where possible, should be minimised as a matter of public policy.
This could most easily be accomplished by transferring responsibility for supervision to the Ministry of Health. Health officials could then work with groups such as the Prostitutes Collective to manage licensing and self-regulation of participants.
The next issue to consider is the business structures behind the industry.
Sludge understands that many of these “business” interests have been lobbying the select committee seeking for the existing massage parlour licensing regime to be maintained largely intact.
Funny that. Who do these arrangements benefit?
After removing the element of state-backed police oppression from the industry, the second policy objective of any law reform plan ought logically be to seek to remove organised crime involvement.
In practice this requires dismantling the many organised crime controlled businesses involved in the industry.
And this is, most probably, the most difficult aspect of any proposed reform plan. How?
It is considered logical in present discussions that if the business of prostitution is decriminalised, then it follows that laws relating to living on the proceeds of prostitution should also be repealed.
In Sludge’s opinion any so bald a reform would be a tragic mistake.
At present the law relating to living on the proceeds of prostitution is routinely and flagrantly flouted. From Sludge’s recollection there has been only one prosecution under the provision in recent times in Wellington, and that was of a Lower Hutt Madam, not of a pimp.
This is possibly one of the only parts of the existing law that should in fact be kept intact. Only it should be amended to make it illegal for “men” to live on the proceeds to prostitution.
Before Sludge receives a hail of emails howling about sexism, first consider the following four points.
1. While it is most probably true that women can be as exploitative as men, they are, as a matter of statistical fact, less violent than men.
2. While it is also true that there are many Madams operating in New Zealand, making money from their female employees. The thick end of the “business” side of prostitution is dominated by organised crime bosses who, almost without exception, are men.
3. By maintaining this part of the law, at least as an interim measure, the women involved in this industry (and the authorities) will be given a tool which can be used to help emancipate the industry from its organised crime connections. In the future such a law can be used to defend the industry against organised crime attempts to find their way back in.
4. Finally, if this part of the law is not kept, then any law reform process will in effect be legitimising the existing highly oppressive business structures that operate in this industry. Men, who are at present criminally living on the backs of the misery of others, will receive legal license to continue to do so with impunity.
The final policy objective of any law reform plan in this area ought to be to protect the sex-workers from exploitation and oppression by their clients.
In particular law reformers need to consider how law reform might effectively combat the evils of firstly underage prostitution, and secondly physical abuse of prostitutes by their clients.
Fundamentally what is needed here is a way of making the clients of prostitutes behave more responsibly. A big ask?
Here too Sludge has a novel proposition: Rather than trying to make laws about what prostitutes can or can’t do, write laws about what clients can and can’t do.
For example: Prostitution could be made illegal for women aged under 18. Only it would not be illegal for the women, it would be illegal for the client, if caught with the woman, or if prosecuted on evidence from the woman. Under such a law clients of prostitutes would have a duty of care to assure themselves that the women they are buying sexual services from are of the proper age.
While such a law is unlikely to prevent underage prostitution altogether, it would certainly have the affect of seriously changing the power balance in the client-prostitute relationship.
Similarly, having unprotected sex with a prostitute could be made illegal, again not for the woman involved in the transaction, but for the man.
The effect of such a provision would, of course, not be to establish an enforcable code of conduct in these areas. However, as stated earlier, they would make it easier for the sex workers to control their clients.
Anti©opyright Sludge 2001