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Brothel bill "pill" will have nasty side-effects

Maxim Institute - Media backgrounder

23 June 2003

Brothel bill “pill” will have nasty side-effects

Like far too many medicines today, the Prostitution Reform “Pill” will have a large number of bad side-effects.

Among the bills five aims are the protection of sex workers, promoting public health, and preventing children from becoming prostitutes. Unfortunately, the cure will be worse than the disease, and we can look to the following unwanted side-effects.

Prostitution will be normalised, made “mainstreamed”

Although the bill’s preamble says that it is not to be taken as an endorsement of prostitution, the bill will send a clear signal to society that prostitution is an okay activity.

Many young girls already fall into prostitution to solve debt problems or to provide money for drugs. Normalising it will increase the number.

The Auckland City Council says the very presence of massage parlours in residential neighbourhoods works against school programmes that promote healthy and non-exploitative relationships.

While the bill prohibits those on welfare benefits from being forced to work as prostitutes against their will, there is nothing in the bill to prevent pimps and brothel owners from promoting it as a career option. Massage parlours already openly advertise for women, and this will become more explicit. The principal of a Tauranga college has complained that pimps have approached girls outside his school gates in attempts to recruit them.

There will be an increase in the number of prostitutes and brothels

Every other country that has liberalised prostitution has experienced an increase in the number of both prostitutes and brothels. You would think that that is a self-evident law of the marketplace, but it is one that MPs do not wish to acknowledge.

However, Raymond Miller, a NZ massage parlour owner for 30 years, says “It can confidently be predicted that decriminalisation will at least double or treble those choosing to operate [as private operators] because the fear of prosecution is removed.”

Prior to legalisation in Victoria, there were an estimated 50 illegal brothels. In five years the number of legal brothels increased to 84 in 1999, and authorities were considering an additional 90 applications. Currently there are 95 legal brothels in Victoria, and the Business Licensing Authority has issued 178 licences to people to carry on a business of prostitution – although not all are in operation yet. In addition there are more than 1,600 private registered sex workers who may operate their own businesses, which may employ up to one other person.

The number of illegal brothels has also risen sharply. In 1999, police estimated there were more than 100 illegal brothels. More recent reports suggest that the number of illegal brothels is now much higher. One industry source put the number of illegal brothels and sex workers as high as 400 across Victoria.

The police acknowledge that legislation has not controlled prostitution. Chief Inspector John Ashby of the Vice Squad said: “I suppose there was this utopian view that legalising prostitution would minimise street and illegal prostitution. It clearly hasn’t done that.”

Small suburban home brothels will particularly increase

Ironically, bill sponsor Tim Barnett has criticised legalisation. His promotional material for decriminalisation says: "Experience worldwide is that such a regime inevitably generates an unlicensed sector. It supports big business at the expense of the workers in the industry. In Victoria, where the cumbersome licensing requirements have resulted in most legal brothels being large scale, big business enterprises, it is estimated that nearly 70% operate illegally, without any regulation."
In fact, the effect in Australia has been to push many prostitutes out into the suburbs, where they can operate with less control.

They are even more easily facilitated in New Zealand where the law if passed will be far less stringent. For instance, the PRB prohibits Ministry of Health workers from entering a home brothel except with a special warrant.

City councils will not have the resources to check on these small-scale brothels, even if they are operating outside district planning zones.

Abuse of women will be normalised and increase

Sheila Jeffreys, Associate Professor of Politics at Melbourne University and spokesperson for Campaign Against Trafficking of Women Australia, says: “Decriminalisation is institutionalising, promoting, and teaching the abuse of women and creating an ever-expanding industry which normalises that abuse.”

Longitudinal research over 11 years by Oslo criminologists Hoigard and Finstad demonstrated that all prostitutes suffer deep psychological damage as a result of their occupation.

Decriminalising or legalising prostitution will normalise practices which are human rights violations, and which in any other context would be legally actionable (sexual harassment, physical assault, rape, captivity, economic coercion) or emotionally damaging (verbal abuse).

US psychologist and researcher, Dr Melissa Farley strongly urged the NZ government not to decriminalise prostitution. She carried out a study of 854 prostitutes in nine countries and found that 89% of them wished to leave the industry but did not have other options. 68% had post-traumatic stress disorder, an indicator of extreme stress, and 60-90% had been sexually assaulted as children.

She states: “Neither legalisation nor decriminalisation makes prostitution safer or less humiliating for those in it – it simply puts the state in the role of pimp, collecting taxes and acting on behalf of customers to make sure that the ‘products’ in prostitution are not contaminated by sexually transmitted disease, or especially HIV. “

There will be an increase in street prostitution

The bill’s sponsor, Tim Barnett, claims “the solution [to offensive behaviour by street workers] is a good working relationship between Police, organisations of sex workers and the relevant local body. However, these are matters dealt with by management and persuasion, not by laws.”

The repeal of the Crimes Act regulation will remove any Police power to act on street prostitutes.

New Zealand prostitutes are not convinced, either, that the bill will bring women in off the street. Sabrina, a prostitute in a down-market parlour in Christchurch, told a Maxim researcher: “I can’t see how the Prostitution Reform Bill will change the industry. Managers won’t employ girls who have worked on the street and clients wouldn’t touch them because they’d be scared she wasn’t clean.”

Despite legalisation, there has also been a huge increase in illegal street prostitution in Victoria, especially in St Kilda, along with increased levels of rape and violence. Melbourne has an estimated 400 street sex workers. This concerned local residents to the point they held a street march to protest and called for prostitutes to be removed from their streets.

As a result of the public complaints, Attorney General Rob Hulls established a Reference Group to consider the issue. The report said in part: “[The Reference Group] believes that the current operation of the street sex industry in the City of Port Phillip is untenable and requires immediate reform… workers and clients often have sex in the parks, lanes and streets... Often homeless and/or regular drug users, street sex workers are frequently the victims of abuse, assault or rape. Policing strategies have not curbed street sex activity and, instead, have moved it to other nearby streets. Some residents feel powerless to address the issue of street sex work in their neighbourhood. The current situation is unacceptable to residents, traders and street sex workers alike…

A range of solutions were proposed by the Reference Group, but were subsequently rejected following further public protest. To date, the Victorian government has not come up with a satisfactory way to deal with the problem.

There will be an increase in violence against street prostitutes

According to statistics collected by the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria, an average of two rapes a week are suffered by street prostitutes in the area. At least one assault a night is reported by outreach workers. Street prostitutes are constantly robbed.

A Latrobe University study found a “frighteningly high level of violence” experienced by workers. All had been raped, bashed or robbed by a client.

An article by Suzanne Hatty in the Australian Journal of Social Issues affirmed that legal reforms have not reduced the violence experienced by prostitutes in paid sexual encounters, nor have they reduced the other hazards of the prostitution profession.

In Canada, prostituted women and girls suffer a mortality rate that is 40 times higher than the national average. They are the most routinely searched-out victims of male sexual predators and serial murderers, who take advantage of their vulnerability.

A study By the Christchurch School of Medicine of sex workers in Christchurch found that nearly two-thirds of street prostitutes were under the age of 18, and some as young as 13, when they began sex work. Over one-quarter of street workers had been raped and two-thirds threatened with physical violence.

There will be an increase in soliciting in public places

The Prostitution Bill makes soliciting legal, and removes all controls on it. This is in stark contrast to the laws in Australia, where all states prohibit soliciting near schools, churches or private homes.

This is an open invitation for brothels and street workers to tout for business wherever they wish, even outside a school. And because police powers to control prostitution are removed by the bill, there is little that they will be able to do about it beyond moving prostitutes on if they become a physical disturbance.

There will be an increase in child prostitution

In the past couple of years there have been a flood of news stories telling of girls as young as 11 prostituting themselves in New Zealand. Virtually all these girls come from dysfunctional homes, and are on the streets to earn money to survive or to buy drugs. The Prostitutes Collective has said it deals with under-age girls on a daily basis, and the Ministry of Justice has said officially that New Zealand has a growing problem.

The Prostitution Bill does nothing to address this problem. It mandates that a male may not pay for sex for a woman under the age of 18, but ironically does not prohibit an under-age girl from soliciting. Even though it is already illegal for a man to have sex with an under-age girl, this does not prevent girls from offering themselves, or buyers taking up the offer.

Legalising prostitution will not touch on the reasons that children are being caught up in this, and it will make it harder for those trying to get girls out of the trap.

Dr Eileen Byrne, who worked in UN child protection for 20 years, said in 1991 that legal prostitution in some European countries has made it much harder to rescue child prostitutes there. She said “only when there was a hard crackdown on organized prostitution could we cut back the traffic in young boys and girls and get them out of the system. Public tolerance created increased traffic in the innocent and vulnerable.”

Dr Chutiki, women’s advisor to the Thai Prime Minister, told a 1995 United Nations Women’s Conference that acceptance of adult prostitution in her country has caused rampant child prostitution.

Legalisation is also likely to increase the number of under-age women in brothels. Fred Lelah, who ran Sasha’s International, one of Melbourne’s inner suburban legal brothels, went before the Melbourne Magistrate’s court in February 2000 for introducing girls 10-15 into his business. Lelah had already served a two year term for the same offence.

There will be an increase in trafficking of women

Trafficking of women is already happening in New Zealand. Police told the Select Committee which reviewed the Prostitution Bill that there are substantial numbers of Asian women working here, with many Thai and Filipina women in particular working in Auckland. These women are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because their often insecure immigration status and lack of English increases their dependency on sponsors. The women are abused and often held in bondage.

NZ Massage Parlour Operators stated in their submission on the bill that they expect trafficking to increase significantly under decriminalisation.

It has certainly happened in Australia, where there have been many reports of Russian as well as Asian women being trafficked into the country by international crime rings and held in slavery. An Australian Institute of Criminology study estimated that Australian brothels earned $1 million a week from this illegal trade.

The United Nations estimates that between 1 and 4 million women and children are victims of trafficking every year around the world. The majority of these women and girls are moved from country to country for the purposes of sexual exploitation and prostitution. Police estimate that 80% of prostituted women in London are now trafficked women.

There will be an increase in drug problems

Drug taking is constantly linked to prostitution. Many women get into prostitution to finance a drug habit, while others start taking drugs to deaden the pain of constant intercourse with a succession of repulsive men.

Bob Harkness, Chairperson of Drug-Arm in Christchurch, says that drugs and prostitution are inextricably linked. Bob is regularly working with street prostitutes in Christchurch and estimates that 75-80% are using drugs.

Linda Watson, a former Perth madam, estimated that 85% of her girls were on drugs, which they take to deaden the pain of what they do. She says: “The sex and drug trades go hand-in-hand. This is partly because prostitutes use drugs to mask their physical and emotional pain, and partly because a brothel bedroom is the ideal place to do drug deals. If we decriminalise prostitution we can expect not only an increase in the size of the prostitution industry, but an expansion of the drug culture.”

There will be an increase in criminal activity

Organised crime is already heavily involved in many aspects of the sex industry in New Zealand. The Police told the Select Committee reviewing the bill that in many instances this involvement is undercover with little public indication as to its extent. Organised crime uses massage parlours for money laundering, the facilitation and distribution of drugs, networking and partnership opportunities. Often associates of organised crime groups are used as a front to thwart the Massage Parlours Act.

Again, this is a reflection of what goes on overseas. In New South Wales rival gangs fight for control of the drugs and prostitution trades in Sydney. In 2000, NSW police reported 40 shootings in 3 months as part of a struggle between rival groups for control of prostitution.

The New Zealand Police Association President visited Holland to examine the state of prostitution there. He concluded that despite being regulated and legalised there was still a strong organized crime component connected with the prostitution industry.

The Police Association said in their submission to the Select Committee that any liberalisation of prostitution laws will have no impact on criminal involvement in the industry and that legalising prostitution would simply legitimize the activities of criminals involved in overseeing and pimping, even in the regulated part of the industry.

There will be an increase in those sexually transmitted diseases against which condoms are not effective (eg, chlamydia and gonorrhoea)

New Zealand is in the midst of an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. Reports in the last few weeks have said New Zealander's are catching STDs at rates up to five times higher than people in Australia, Britain and Canada -- and doctors don't know why. Chlamydia is a "hidden epidemic," with cases rising at a rate five times higher than in Australia. Gonorrhea and cases of syphilis are also rising sharply.

Although the Prostitution Bill mandates that condoms must be used in brothels, condoms do not, in fact, provide the protection claimed of them. A major research study in the United States concluded that condoms provide almost no protection against chlamydia and gonorrhoea, scabies, lice, genital warts or genital herpes. (Genital warts are the main cause of cervical cancer.) The study also concluded that condoms are only 85% effective against AIDS, which still leaves a 15% infection rate.

There is also strong pressure from the clients of prostitutes not to use condoms. Spokespersons for the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria (PCV) have explained that men are becoming more demanding in the type of services they want. In a 1998 study conducted by the Macfarlane Burnett Centre for Medical Research, in conjunction with the PCV, 40% of men did not use condoms when using prostituted women. This is in part an unintended consequence of compulsory health checks.


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