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Big News : A “Morally Repugnant Trade”

Big News with Dave Crampton

Prostitution is a “morally repugnant trade” – so decriminalise it and let the Government live off the earnings of prostitution


The Prostitution Law Reform Bill that is currently before the Justice and Electoral Select Committee appears to be heading for parliamentary approval in a country where it is illegal to sell sex but not to buy it. Massage parlours “offer” sex while their clients buy it. But the 8000 so prostitutes in this country look set to be able to sell sex in a safer environment should they get their jobs decriminalised later this year.

Some sex workers, their advocates (and their opponents) have provided oral, yes that’s right, oral, submissions at recent select committee hearings. The world’s only transsexual MP, Georgina Beyer, made her oral views known in the house, saying she spoke from experience. I didn’t hear her say, though, that she was convicted of “lewd behaviour in a public place” as a teenager. Yes, there’s lots of oral stuff going on but more oral does not necessarily mean moral. Sometimes it’s M-oral.

I prefer to call prostitutes sex workers, but David Lane, secretary for the Society for the Protection of Community Standards, (SPCS), describes them as “predators pedalling a morally repugnant trade”. Oh dear. What will he say when the bill is passed and sex workers will be legally able to “pedal their repugnant trade as predators” instead of waiting for men to come? Yes, come. Those in the Prostitutes Collective say his statement is repugnant to the people in a profession they care about. Some Christians say it is the kerb crawlers and the parlour hoppers who are the predators. The Christian Heritage Party, (CHP) to its credit, tries to minimise the moral aspects while concentrating on the human rights aspects as they know damn well that politicians will not be persuaded by moral arguments, particularly when the bill has excised all references to morality. They learnt that during the homosexual reform bill and the de facto property rights bill.

But human rights arguments are selective. In their submission to the select committee, the Christian Heritage Party quotes the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights saying that no-one should be subject to inhumane or degrading treatment - meaning sex work is degrading or inhumane. They didn’t quote the part of the Act that says everyone has the right to free choice of employment and just and favourable conditions of work. They purposely missed that bit out. Putting the two together, though, it means that sex workers have a right to work in the sex industry if they so choose, without being degraded. That’s what the bill is about, changing legislation for sex work to occur lawfully and safely. Bill proponents maintain that decriminalisation will create this safe framework. Opponents say more people will be introduced to the industry, but this time as a viable career option advertised in the media and at schools.

Pew warmers, politicians and prostitutes don’t always see eye to eye, but they have two things they agree on here: Current laws need to be changed, and legalisation will make the profession dangerously worse as it will create a two-tier system, forcing illegal prostitution underground. This is currently happening in Victoria, Australia, where prostitution is legal

Under NZ law, prostitution is not an offence. But soliciting, brothel-keeping and living off the earnings of prostitution are associated offences. Under the reform bill they won’t be. In fact the Government will be living off the earnings of prostitution, as sex workers will be classed as self-employed workers and be subject to the tax police.

What is good about the bill is that sex workers will be able to have the right to decline sexual services, coercion will be a recognised offence, and safe sex mandatory. Sex workers should be able to report any violence to the police with out fear of stigma. What isn’t so good is that sex workers under 18 won’t get the required protection from the bill, despite many of them having illegal underage sex in the first place.

The bill may reverse the current power balance, albeit to a lesser degree, as if a client pays $100 to a sex worker at a parlour and she doesn`t want to go ahead with the service, she can opt out. But the client can’t force her to carry on -that is coercion. He may lose out as there is no guarantee of a refund. This goes against the fundamental principle that all persons should be equal under the law, and actually reverses the current power imbalance, albeit to a lesser degree. It’s a tricky issue that is not adequately addressed by the bill. Mind you, the SPCS and CHP will probably say it served the client right, he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. “What if his wife finds out,” they probably say, “that man will destroy the family unit!”

And that’s a key issue that is not addressed in the bill. The clients. Why are they forking out all this cash in the first place? It’s not addressed as it touches on morality and economics, rather than law. I would suggest that most people would not be happy if they found out their husband, father, boyfriend or MP was regularly employing prostitutes. Mind you if an MP was caught out, there will be more sniggers than sadness.

But what if a prostitute conceives a child or contracts a STD because of failure of omission to use condoms? Would that be a personal work-related injury? Contracting a STD wouldn’t be work-related for the client that’s for sure.

Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but it is the only profession that I know of that requires a person to have professional sex with strangers several times a day. Although sex workers will be classed as self-employed, they won’t have a job description despite being associated with a parlour.

The recommendations in the bill are an improvement on the current environment. But they do not provide enough incentive for women who find it difficult to leave the industry, nor will they protect child prostitutes from entering the sex industry and being abused within it. It is unfortunate that the likely passage of this bill may promote social conditioning of the sex industry as a viable choice of employment, without addressing factors that cause the demand for sex workers in the first place.

From a biblical point of view, prostitution is immoral. But so is homosexuality, so is adultery and premarital sex, and usury and they are all legal. Christian groups also view abortion, drunkenness, swearing and gambling as sinful acts – but they are all legal. Decriminalisation of cannabis is another fight for the Christian campaigners.

But that will be the subject of another Big News.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist, in addition to writing for Scoop he is the Australasian correspondent for newsroom-online.com. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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