Healy and NZPC should be under investigation – not knighted
“It is not uncommon for it to take 20 minutes or longer for the anus and rectal passage to expand and embrace the length of the girth of a penis or object,” reads a New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective (NZPC) standard manual, Stepping Forward. “This has to do with body memory and the more your body becomes familiar with something going in and learns to relax with the sensation, the easier it will become.”
This advice on how to tolerate unwanted anal penetration is routinely disseminated to prostituted women by NZPC, under Catherine Healy's watch.
“Using chemical assistance to help relax is not advised,” the Ministry of Health-funded publication continues, “as it seldom means the body is actually relaxed but that you are less inclined to register the pain or trauma.”
It is this through offering this kind of “assistance” to women in the sex trade – not exit services or similar – that Catherine Healy has just been given a knighthood. When putting her forward for “services to sex workers”, whoever nominated Healy was clearly unconcerned that the term “sex worker” itself as an industry lobby term that includes pimps, as does the work of NZPC. While Healy likes to leverage a public image of herself as a kind of union leader, a large portion of NZPC's website is dedicated to helping pimps set up brothels. In 2015 NZPC wrote a letter of support for the Chow Brothers whilst women were testifying against them in court, and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) the worldwide lobby of which NZPC is a member, has been run by a convicted sex trafficker.
NZPC may have started as a grassroots charity in the 1980s, with Healy helping to gather other prostituted women organising themselves to resist the spread of AIDs, abuses of police, and the government’s criminalization of prostituted persons. It is rarely mentioned whether this original group challenged the abuses of pimps and punters as well. In any case, by 2003, the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) was passed and decriminalized those two parties along with the prostituted. Since then, if not before, NZPC has been a state-funded sex trade lobby that protects the interests of punters and pimps above all. Healy has always been its public face.
Healy has done everything she can, over the years, to promote maintenance of New Zealand's current prostitution laws. These laws are also favoured by the NSWP – as a sex trade lobby, each branch promotes the decriminalisation of pimps and punters by downplaying the violence in prostitution. So, when a safehouse to help women exit prostitution opened in Palmerston North in 2017, Healy herself downplayed the need for that exit service. She told media that “most sex workers left the trade without much difficulty; about 10 per cent of people needed assistance leaving”.
This statement is blatantly untrue. Exiting the sex industry is in fact extremely difficult and often takes several attempts.
Healy’s 10% figure is also conveniently cherry-picked. The survey it comes from shows 10% of prostituted persons stating they “don’t know how to leave” prostitution. Healy ignores that a total of 72% of respondents to that survey indicate that they are trapped in the trade by circumstance, selecting the options “can’t get help to leave”; “don’t know what else to do”, or “have no other income”. This is from a survey that already sports evidence of bias, not least because NZPC conducted the interviews for it themselves (see page 46).
Official Information Act requests have revealed that brothel inspections in the interests of women’s health and safety in New Zealand are few and far between. Aside from 12 that were conducted in the first few weeks following the PRA, only 11 brothel inspections occurred across the whole of New Zealand between 2003 and January 2015. As NZPC's national coordinator, Healy should be challenging this. Instead, she prefers to continue the distribution of Stepping Forward.
A large proportion of this booklet is comprised of information about sexually transmitted diseases, illustrated through small, badly photographed, black and white photographs of men's genitalia. The booklet demonstrates that NZPC – Healy included – are more than content to leave women to figure out how to provide a “sexy” service whilst navigating life-threatening risks equipped with little more than condoms and bad visual aids. In any workplace where I have ever been an employee, it would be considered sexual harrassment were I to even be made to look at these images.
Healy and NZPC do advise that “Condoms are not enough on their own. When you are having sex several times a day or night, you will need water-based lubricant (like WetStuffTM). Experienced sex workers will tell you Lube makes it less likely for the condom to break as it reduces friction and less wear and tear on you too!”
This advice reads more like product placement than anything concerned to help women escape the risk, pain and mental and physical trauma of regular sexual abuse.
Further advice in Stepping Forward confirms Healy and NZPC's indifference. Their advice for “dealing with violent clients” is to
Make as much noise as possible to attract attention. Try calling FIRE, a passerby will probably pay more attention. If you wear a whistle around your neck, blow it in his ear.
NZPC later says that “getting loud” can “backfire because some clients are just wanting you to do this so that they have an excuse”. On the next page, women are advised to “Leave your chewed gum under the seat,” if they get into a punter's car. “This will have your DNA and prove you were in that car should you go missing.”
Stepping Forward's instructions on “how to stay a happy hooker,” involve blatantly taking the mickey out of post traumatic stress (PTSD) symptoms, and euphemistically renaming PTSD “sex worker burnout”. It advises women in prostitution, most often poor, homeless and with a history of sexual abuse, to “cherish your body... your business's best asset” by buying some running shoes. It also disingenuously advises women “get over it or get out of it”, as if prostituted women are flush with options.
Catherine Healy is one of those who must be held accountable for the distribution of this “grooming literature”, as one survivor has called it. Stepping Foward has not been produced as a “service” to any “sex workers” but the pimps who profit from women's abuse. Healy has not demonstrated, over the last fifteen years, that she is willing to fight for prostituted women at all – on the contrary. She has demonstrated that she is prepared to promote the interests of pimps and punters whatever the cost to the women who may once have considered her a representative for them.
Perhaps a case
could be made that Healy deserves to be honoured alongside
the likes of Sir John Key and Sir Bill English – if gender
equal distribution of Pimp State honours is only fair. In my
view, all three should be under investigation, not