Safe Sex A Hard Sell
5 December 2002
Safe Sex A Hard Sell
The government has shot itself in the foot over prostitution law...and the gun it has used is its own new workplace health and safety law plans.
The Prostitution Reform Bill has five major aims, one of which is to promote the welfare and occupational safety and health of sex workers.
For this to become possible, it is critical that prostitutes become employees of the brothel in which they work.
Unfortunately, neither the prostitutes nor the current "industry" players-massage parlours-are in favour of this. Most prostitutes work as independent contractors, paying a rental for the room they use, and they prefer it this way.
Tim Barnett, the Prostitution Bill's promoter, doesn't like it that way, and is determined they all become employees.
But here's the rub (if you'll pardon the pun).
The new Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill imposes very large fines on employers who knowingly subject their workers to workplace stress.
That should strike the fear of God into every one of them. Because hundreds of research studies around the world, including New Zealand, have shown that prostitution causes harm to women. It's not just that many prostitutes suffer violence at the hands of their clients and pimps, the very nature of the act causes deep physical and emotional harm.
That's why so many turn to drugs and anti-depressants, to deaden the pain and to help them dissociate their mind from what they are doing.
The Select Committee in its report back to Parliament on the Bill acknowledged this harm. It even said: "We condemn any suggestion that in decriminalising prostitution, sex work can be considered a suitable vocation or employment option."
The owners of massage parlours and brothels know this. They will resist to the hilt attempts to force them to become employers, and thereby expose themselves to massive financial penalties for allowing their workers to suffer stress.
Experience in Germany has shown this. Prostitutes there have been granted official employment status, including social security benefits and union working conditions. Only 1 percent of Germany's prostitutes are estimated to register for social security says its pro prostitution lobby group.
Much the same can be predicted for New Zealand. And so a major justification for legalising prostitution will fall to shreds on the reality of the marketplace.
Scott McMurray Maxim Institute 49 Cape Horn Rd, Hillsborough Auckland, NZ T. 627 3261 M. 027 222 1174 F. 627 3264 www.maxim.org.nz