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Prostitution Reform Bill “Victorian”

Prostitution Reform Bill “Victorian”

The New Zealand Federation of Graduate Women urges MPs to think very carefully about the consequences of voting in favour of the Prostitution Reform Bill, undergoing its Third Reading in Parliament this week.

The Bill is a specialised form of health and safety in employment law. While our organisation supports the health and safety of all women and girls, in all areas of life, some of our members are concerned that this Bill, if passed into law, is likely to diminish, rather than enhance, the health and safety of New Zealand women and girls. Prostitution involves wider societal issues — not simply one individual’s employment choice.

We agree that New Zealand’s law on prostitution needs reform. The fact that Section 26 of the Summary Offences Act 1981 makes it an offence for the prostitute to solicit — while the client’s actions are lawful — is clearly sexist (given that most prostitutes are female, their clients male).

But if we’re going to reform New Zealand’s law on prostitution, let’s do it properly.

We are particularly concerned about the plight of prostituted children (male and female), who are invisible as far as this Bill is concerned. This serious deficiency arises from the Bill’s Orwellian definition of prostitution only as “sex work” — as simply a means of livelihood entered into by willing suppliers. The well-researched background of childhood sexual abuse and drug addiction of many adult prostitutes also gives the lie to this definition.

Many writers, such as New Zealand health journalist Sandra Coney, argue that it is impossible to make prostitution healthy and safe — it is inherently unhealthy and dangerous — and have written evocatively about the realities of the prostitute’s life, and the risk of assault and injury she faces. New Zealand public health research has described high rates of rape of prostitutes. All of this concerns us greatly.

The Prostitutes’ Collective, a self-interested group by no means representative of all prostitutes, has worked closely with MP Tim Barnett, sponsor of the Bill. Their aim with this legislation is to achieve the ability to pursue their livelihood freely. They have expressed no particular wish to see a reduction in the amount of prostitution, and would probably be happy to see it flourish. We would not.

Nor do we believe, as some supporters have suggested, that the Bill will "reduce the likelihood" of involvement by organised crime. Prostitution is already run by organised crime - and always has been. What is visible in city streets is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Bill perpetuates the misogynistic Victorian attitudes of "women as chattels" of those who originally drafted our legislation. We now have more enlightened legislation on property ownership and inheritance for women, for instance – not too long ago, married women could not own property. Let's move out of these unenlightened times where women (and young men) are still being used for the sexual gratification of men, and start to talk honestly about the reality of prostitution.

NZFGW is a member organisation of the International Federation of Graduate Women (IFUW), which has consultative status at the United Nations. IFUW was formed after the First World War to promote international peace and to enhance the status of women and girls worldwide, particularly by education. NZFGW offers generous scholarships to women for tertiary study and research projects. We aim to use the privilege of our education for the benefit of our communities.

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