NZPC slammed in open letter to Ministers from “sex workers”
On Saturday, an open letter was sent to Government Ministers from several self-described “sex workers”. The letter, penned by well known Auckland stripper Lisa Lewis, challenges the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), its use of funding, and its monopolising of conversation on prostitution. The letter “rejects NZPC as our representative”, and requests that government investigate NZPC spending and “stop funding an organisation that doesn't represent grass roots”.
The stated aims of the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act (PRA), wrote Lewis, were to safeguard the human rights and “occupational health and safety” of those in prostitution, create “an environment conducive to public health”, and prevent exploitation, particularly of children. Lewis slams NZPC for not meeting the aims of the PRA and making false claims about themselves as an organisation.
“NZPC claims it is run by sex workers for sex workers. How many sex workers work at NZPC?” Lewis asked. International feminists Janice Raymond and Julie Bindel have addressed similar questions about NZPC recently, in an article published in Dignity journal this April, and a book titled The Pimping of Prostitution published by Spinifex Press in 2017.
NZPC receives over one million dollars per annum in funding from the Ministry of Health. “An inquest into the million dollar per annum financial records and spending from NZPC needs to be done,” writes Lewis, “on behalf of all tax payers and sex workers.”
According to Lewis, since NZPC's claim that it is a “grassroots, not for profit organisation” is not tenable, “This raises serious concerns in terms of what and where this money is going.”
“Right up until 2018 when media questioned NZPC over providing free supplies to sex workers – NZPC were charging for condoms, charging for lubricant and charging for sponges. Where did this money go? It was only when media started to question NZPC in Auckland that suddenly sex workers were told now condoms are free,” she writes.
Lewis rejects NZPC's claim that it offers “pastoral care to sex workers in New Zealand,” as well as information and assistance regarding tax and council bylaws.
She says NZPC “have never offered any course surrounding tax obligations”, “have never corrected any sex worker advertising in illegal council bylaw areas even if NZPC has gone to that address to sell condoms, sponges and lubricants.” She says that she has spoken to seventy-five sex workers who “disagreed” on NZPC's claims to provide both pastoral care and tax advice.
Lewis is not the first to have publicly criticised NZPC's carelessness from inside the sex trade. Writer Chelsea Geddes has made several critiques of NZPC. I have personally received correspondence from a woman named Sarah, who does not otherwise wish to be known, stating that “As a 16 year old street worker Anna Reed certainly never tried to help me, even though I was under age and going to the NZPC on a weekly sometimes even daily basis.”
One contractor, who NZPC has used to provide counselling services, Bill Logan, had his New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) registration suspended in 2014. Logan was advised not to engage in “social activities with clients... student counsellors or other individuals where there is an imbalance of power and age, in intimate behaviours such as flirting and nude spa parties”. He was also suspended for advising a client to engage in immigration fraud.
Lewis says that in addition to failing to provide the quality pastoral care and advice on tax and bylaws that it claims to offer, while charging prostituted women for condoms, sponges and lubricant, NZPC representatives regularly use funding to “take overseas trips to speak at international events”. She asks, “is this funded by taxpayers also?”
Lewis also questions NZPC's positions on prostituted persons with illegal immigration status, suggesting that NZPC is currently attempting to decriminalise sex trafficking for its own purposes. This claim has much to back it up, since NZPC is a branch of a global organisation – the Global Network of Sex Work Projects – that has been run by a convicted sex trafficker.
Lewis' letter contains mixed positions on the rights of Maori and Pacific women as well as those who are internationally trafficked. Lewis points out the inextricable connection between prostitution and colonisation, saying prostitution has existed here “from the time of Captain James Cook's voyages to New Zealand in 1769” when “Whalers, sealers and traders visiting New Zealand regularly exchanged items such as muskets for sexual access to Maori women (and sometimes men).”
Despite this acknowledgment of prostitution as a trade in women taking place on international routes not controlled by women, Lewis objects to the use of “tax payer moneys and government funding to support illegal migrants,” viewing prostituted women from overseas primarily as business competition rather than exploited persons with a right to care and protection. She proposes an amendment to the PRA stating that “No person may assist illegal migrant persons in providing commercial services”, and does state that “This would cover against... the huge danger of human trafficking which remains a huge risk here in New Zealand.”
Lewis' letter was written and signed by self-described escorts and “sex workers” involved in the so-called “high end” of prostitution. This enables Lewis to make the claim that “more and more escorts are becoming more confident speaking up independently without needing to have a puppet like NZPC do our speaking.” This claim is misleading, since the large majority of those in prostitution are not becoming increasingly “empowered” – but this majority is equally underserved and misrepresented by NZPC.
NZPC has also contributed to cultivating a climate of groupthink, Lewis says. She asks why a representative group for prostituted persons in New Zealand would “bully and target” those who they represent, for having questions and concerns about their own organisation and its funding and services. “When any legal sex worker has questioned this we have been attacked or bullied on social media forums... how is this representation keeping legal sex workers... safe and protected?” Indeed, allegations of the practice, endorsement and promotion of bullying and silencing at NZPC by programmes coordinator Calum Bennachie and community liaison Ahi Wi-Hongi in particular has been previously critiqued.
To me, Lewis' positions on colonisation; prostituted persons especially with illegal immigration status, and her call for a “Ministry of Prostitution”, are positively dystopian. Yet her call for an investigation into NZPC corruption and incompetence is long overdue. “To summarise,” she writes, “NZPC are using their position for their own... objectives”. With feminists, prostitution survivors and self-described “sex workers” all in agreement on this – it's about time the government paid attention.