Christchurch sex workers say they are being mistreated by migrant workers unfamiliar with New Zealand’s prostitution laws.
Prostitutes’ Collective regional co-ordinator Anna Reed said street workers had reported incidents of people from “other cultures” treating them rudely, trying to get more for less, being abusive or stealing money afterwards – “assuming that they wouldn’t go to the police or tell anyone because they’re just ‘common prostitutes’,” she said.
“This is in the mindset of some people from some cultures, which we will not name,” she said. “It’s not that they are flocking but we’re certainly noticing them in our stats.”
Prostitution was decriminalized in New Zealand in 2003. The Prostitution Reform Act protects sex workers’ rights, including always using condoms, the right to say no and the right to report acts of violence including theft, non-payment, harassment and condom removal.
The legislation also compels prostitutes and clients to practise safe sex.
“There are countries where if a worker wants a client to use a condom, it’s seen as an insult to his manhood,” Reed said.
“Sex workers do have a lot of rights and we’re concerned that some of the people coming into Christchurch from other cultures don’t recognise this [or] value women as highly as we do.”
Health authorities have responded to the concerns.
Community and Public Health (CPH) has produced a “man-friendly” pamphlet which outlines New Zealand prostitution laws and where to access health services and advice.
The pamphlet has been distributed to backpackers, accommodation providers, businesses who may be employing migrant or itinerant workers and has a free condom attached.
Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey said the pamphlet was not just about informing migrant workers, but also the wider public about the new locations of health services.
CPH is located in Manchester St, where there had also been patch conflict between prostitutes, tension between prostitutes and residents, and “so-called minders” using dogs as weapons. Those matters also needed addressing, Humphrey said.
Licences for street workers – much like those required for busking – could be an option, he said.
If the licences came with a small fee, the Christchurch City Council could hire security guards to monitor the area.
“It would be good for the agencies to think about how this whole industry is kept safe for everyone,” he said.
Christchurch city councillor Ali Jones, who organised meetings with police, the collective and Manchester St residents over tensions in the residential area, was receptive to Humphrey’s idea.
“Thinking outside the square is exactly what we need. We’re happy to look at and consider everything but it’s got to work within the framework as a local body and national laws,” she said.