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Prostitution Bill "win-win" for Parliament

Media Release
Tim Barnett
Member of Parliament for Christchurch Central
June 22nd 2003

Prostitution Bill "win-win" for Parliament

Tim Barnett MP, sponsor of the Prostitution Reform Bill, has today launched a summary showing the multiple ways in which the Bill would bring sensible and in many ways tougher law to the sex industry. The summary (see attached below) shows that: It toughens current prostitution-related law in 4 ways

• greater penalties and less opportunity to defend sex with under-age prostitutes;

• coercion;

• responsibilities to promote and practice safer sex, on operators, clients and prostitutes;

• a ban on electronic advertising of prostitution

It gives sex workers 4 new protections

• legal contracts with clients, which sex workers can cancel if threatened;

• the possibility of employment contracts;

• Occupational Safety and Health codes and other interventions;

• Certifications of a wider range of operators than the current law allows

It gives local bodies three new powers and yet does not add to their costs

• the ability to consider sensitivity of siting of new brothels additional to standard planning grounds;

• the ability to develop brothel location policies in District Plans;

• the ability to ban offensive signage.

It removes the soliciting law, which is quite often enforced, but ensures that existing law can deal with harassment and offensive behaviour.

It removes laws which are rarely enforced

(e.g. brothel-keeping, procuring; “living on the earnings”)

It offers a world-leading opportunity for ongoing review of the impact of the law Tim Barnett said today: “This Bill is at the end of a 15 year road. It seeks to replace prohibition of

prostitution, which has proven unenforceable, discriminatory and protective of abuse, with a decriminalisation approach which minimises harm. That focuses the law on genuine rather than imagined evils. It has had proven benefit in New South Wales, and our Bill learns from the mistakes which they have made. It is world-class law and deserves strong support on Wednesday night”.





The law now

The key element

If the Bill becomes law

Since an amendment to the Crimes Act in 2000, the minimum age for prostitution has been 18. Clients can use a defence of thinking on "reasonable grounds" that the worker was aged over 18. The maximum penalty is 5 years imprisonment. There have to date been no reported convictions.

Age limits

The minimum age will remain at 18. The maximum penalty for clients will be increased to 7 years imprisonment. The client’s defence that they "reasonably’ thought the prostitute was aged over 18 will be removed, with the aim of making convictions easier.

Covered by normal resource consent rules plus District Plan zoning.

Brothel location

Local bodies are given two additional powers in relation to the location of new brothels - to create by-laws which can influence the areas in which brothels can be located (while recognizing that the general law does not render prostitution illegal); and to be able to consider factors other than specific physical impact (e.g. noise, parking) when considering brothel location.

Larger operations are generally licensed as massage parlours; smaller operations, often called escort agencies, operate illegally. The system mitigates against smaller operators.

Brothel size

Any brothel with an operator will have to certify; this creates a bias in favour of smaller operations, which tend to be worker-run, more discreet and contain fewer of the harms associated with the industry.

It is an offence to keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel. This is occasionally enforced for unlicensed escort agencies running brothel-type operations, usually following complaints from massage parlour operators.


Would not be a crime. The concept of "massage parlour" would disappear from law, and the term "brothel" would replace it.

No catalyst for change. Defeat of the Bill would end any realistic chance of law reform in this generation.

Catalyst for change

The Review Committee established by the Bill will report to Government in 3-5 years, initially taking a snapshot of the state of the sex industry, then measuring the impact of the law change and investigating how best to control entry to and encourage exiting from the industry.

The Crimes Act makes inducing sexual connection by coercion illegal but does not specifically cover the sex industry and would not easily be applicable.


The Bill creates a new crime of coercing someone to provide sexual services with a maximum penalty of 7 years.




The law now

The key element

If the Bill becomes law

Since a contract can be held by the courts to be illegal and unenforceable if contrary to public policy, any prostitution-related contract is legally void.

Contractual responsibilities

A contract can be formed, both between operator and sex worker, and between client and sex worker. The Bill gives sex workers a specific right to withdraw from a contract with a client (with appropriate reimbursement) if they want to. This is a protection against threatening behaviour by a client. Operators and sex workers would also be able to take legal proceedings against non-paying clients.

Each Court-licensed massage parlour must have a manager registered with the Court; that person must not have a significant criminal record, or any prostitution-related conviction, and must pass a "good character" test.

Controls on operators

Each operator of a brothel with four of more sex workers (and anyone who works in a position as operator in a smaller brothel) must obtain a certificate from the Court stating that they do not have certain more serious convictions; they can apply to the Court to have the subsequent ban overturned.

Sex workers have no ability under law to work under an employment contract, since the "employer" would be defined as "living off the earnings", and would thus be breaking the law.

Employment rights

Opens the option for sex workers to be employed under an employment contract, with all the protections that can bring.

Under prohibition, the effective current legal model for prostitution, gangs tend to flourish. This has certainly been the case in the areas of alcohol and cannabis prohibition. The level of gang involvement in prostitution is variable region by region.

Gang involvement

The Bill will encourage the development of smaller, worker-run prostitution operations in which gang involvement will be much more difficult to sustain. The removal of the essential criminality from prostitution will likewise reduce the opportunity for gang involvement.

Given the uncertain legal status of the sex industry, and consequent absence of clear lines of legal responsibility, there are no effective and enforceable health and safety standard, nor any formal involvement by Occupational Safety and Health.

Health and safety

Occupational Safety and Health will form a relationship with and involvement in the sex industry. This will begin with a voluntary code and could then develop further.

No law specifically relating to work as prostitutes by people holding work or other relevant visas.

Immigration provisions

Legal provision preventing people on temporary visas from working in the sex industry.

Illegal. This prohibition prevents an ordinary employment relationship being created between the operator and the sex worker.

"Living on the earnings"

No longer illegal.

No specific Code or controls established by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Media advertising

Ban on advertising of prostitution on radio or TV; controls and Code to be established in relation to print advertising.

Controls on offensive signage have proven to be generally unenforceable under resource management or censorship law, or district plans.

Planning laws - signage

Local bodies are given new powers to ban offensive signage promoting prostitution services.

The law now

The key element

If the Bill becomes law

It is an offence to procure anyone, for gain or reward, to have intercourse with someone who they are not married to. This criminalizes both employees in the sex industry and also third parties (e.g. care workers for someone with a disability requiring the services of a prostitute; a hotel receptionist working on behalf of a guest). It is generally unenforced.

Procuring sexual intercourse

Would not be a crime.

Each worker in a massage parlour must be registered with the Police; sporadic checks on the parlour’s records are made. In some parts of New Zealand, the Police operate a (non statutory) registration scheme for escorts, and local media refuse advertisements from individual escorts unless they are registered with the police. Significant confidentiality concerns have arisen.

Registration of sex workers

There will be no registration schemes.

No legal obligation on sex worker or client to practice safer sex.

Safer-sex information

Specific legal obligations placed on sex worker and client to practice safer sex. Since brothel-keeping is no longer an offence, the presence of condoms will no longer constitute evidence, so safer-sex paraphernalia can be more prominently provided

No obligation on operator, sex worker or client to promote safer sex.

No obligation on operator to have safer sex paraphernalia available.

Safer-sex responsibilities

Specific legal obligations placed on operators to ensure condom use and the provision of information on safer sex, with a maximum fine of $2000.

A crime, resulting in 354 arrests in the past 5 years. The arrests are usually of street workers, sometimes involve police entrapment operations, and disproportionately focus on male, Maori and Pacific island workers. The maximum fine is $200, but there can be additional serious consequences.


Would not be a crime. However, the Summary Offences Act would be available to deal with harassment of the public, or otherwise offensive behaviour by sex workers.

At high risk of soliciting convictions. Banned from working in massage parlours if they have a prostitution or drug conviction.

Street workers

Convictions for soliciting would cease (and, under separate legislation, could be clean-slated after a period). The ban on working in brothels if having a previous conviction for drug or prostitution-related offences would end.

© Scoop Media

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