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Sharples: Control of Street Prostitution Bill

Manukau City Council (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill 2005

Dr Pita Sharples, Member for Tamaki Makaurau

Wednesday 11 October 2006; 5.50pm

The location of my electorate office, is Hunters Corner. The site where the street workers targeted in this Bill, gather.

I have seen sex-workers, whakawahine - transgender; going about their business. I have not, however, succumbed to the practice that other MPs in this House have - that is of counting the actual numbers of street girls.

The Counties Manukau Police reported a maximum of 21 workers on the night of 4 December 2005; but an average number sighted under six per night. These statistics are consistent with data also held by the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. It is, however, much less than some of the more sensational mythology that has built up around this Bill.

I think the dubious "Numbers Game" deserves another look.

All manners of statistics have been bandied around with wild claims that the numbers have shot up since the passing of the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003; an increase of a whopping 400%.

One explanation could be, as was told to me, that one of the people set up to count numbers of sex workers on the streets, was told to return every fifteen minutes to do a fresh head count. Well, that would seem fairly improbable that the turnaround is so rapid that a new team would be out there every quarter of an hour.

The select committee report highlighted the difficulty of obtaining accurate information.

This issue of data is particularly relevant in the counting of young people on the street. Such are the numbers of our young population on the street that it would be virtually impossible to distinguish between those who are sex workers; those who are full on street kids; and those who are just young people, hanging out with their mates as many young people are apt to do.

Older workers, particularly the Queens, have said to me, that being Maori, when they see Maori kids in the game, they're more inclined to kick them off home, or at least off the streets - rather than see them enter into a lifestyle that's less than safe. That's called whanaungatanga - caring for one another.

What this Bill sets out to do, is far from caring. It sets out to control the street life; to institute an unduly harsh and punitive regime for street based sex workers, and anyone the authorities might deem to be associated.

It's not as if we haven't been there before.

A study by Sorrenson, The Maori People and the City of Auckland, described a situation some 150 years ago in 1863, when Ngati Whatua, had, and I quote: "to abide by a curfew and wear coloured armbands if venturing into the streets during the day".

Sorrenson goes further to note that the King Movement was spurred on by the treatment Maori received in Auckland. Speakers at the King meetings, frequently referred to the evils of liquor, the prostitution of their women, and ill-treatment in Auckland.

One has to wonder, if the next step if this drastic legislation was to get through, would be the introduction of coloured armbands, and curfews, to keep the natives at bay; to get them off the streets.

Madam Speaker, we in South Auckland, know what we are dealing with. We know of the violence, the criminality, the socio-economic deprivation, the hardship endured within that community.

But the answer is not in adding another layer of crime and punishment to the mix.

This Bill would have the effect of bringing criminal charges against young kids, making the lives of vulnerable teenagers even worse.

A source of authority in this field is ECPAT NZ (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, Child Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Children for sexual purposes) who have spoken out against the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

In a study they undertook of 47 sex workers who had commenced sexual activity under the age of 18 years, 40% of those workers were Maori.

That study reported a high consumption of alcohol and frequent drug taking; 56% reported childhood sexual abuse, and 79% were living away from their parents when they first became involved in commercial sexual activity.

So there are huge opportunities for intervention, and many other areas that could benefit from focused policy - other than punitive measures based around locking them up for life.

Why isn't the Manukau City Council looking at comprehensive well-being programmes, which deal with the traumatic after-effects of sexual abuse? Or investing energy into restoring whanaungatanga as a key value in the community, so that the children want to stay home, want to be with their whanau?

Madam Speaker, we want Compassion not Conviction; Protection not prosecution.

The Prostitution Law Reform bill did that. It paved the way for sex workers to perceive the police as helping them to protect their rights - not punishing them for being on the streets at night.

What this Bill does, is just add a new menu of offences to criminalise street-workers. The Bill sets up a scenario by which prostitutes or their clients, could be fined up to $10,000 for 'loitering' for the purposes of prostitution.

It also sets up the powers of the Police to such an extent, that Police would be able to demand information from people if there were 'reasonable grounds' to believe they had committed an offence. Anyone refusing to give information could be fined $5000.

In many ways, these are the people most on the fringe of our society. And what does this Bill do? It targets young people in Manukau as ripe to be prosecuted. Like the laws prohibiting graffiti in Manukau, the implications of the Bill will be that these young people become identified as human litter; as the rubbish the Council wants to sweep off the streets, just as they seek to wipe the walls clean of graffiti art.

In Counties Manukau I am privileged to be working every week with the police and about 40 community groups who are creating opportunities for intervention in broken homes, in drinking homes, in abusive homes, in drug homes and in prostitution issues.

My role is simply co-ordinating and assisting community groups, fostering cooperation amongst them, to be an effective force in helping to change dysfunctional behaviour.

These groups needs support not a new law discriminating against South Auckland. These are the groups who voluntarily and unselfishly assist in teaching motherhood to many young mothers who have just blundered into motherhood. These groups who offer counselling, give food, give social advice and skills. These groups are experienced in preventing child abuse. These groups provide courses for men who have abused their partners.

Open your eyes people, South Aucklander's know what is needed. They know that major change in their suburbs can only happen by their own involvement - never mind the persecution of youth who will get caught in this legislation - by simply being just uptown. We need to invest in caring and healing.

The Manukau Bill seems to be motivated more about declining property values and nuisance factors, rather than civil liberties. The Human Rights Commission has advised the House that the Bill is fundamentally flawed and should be withdrawn, citing a host of international human rights instruments that would be at risk of being breached by the actions of this Bill.

I remain hopeful that together, we in the Manukau community, can make a difference to the social and economic environment. I applaud the initiative of groups like Streetreach; Te Aronga Hou Inananei; and other submitters, who do not count workers as data for the press; or categorise clients as fodder for glorified gossip.

The House must vote this Bill down. Thank you Madam Speaker.

ENDS

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