Could you describe how the law on sex work in New Zealand was developed? What makes it different from the Swedish model?
NZPC would be best to answer the first part of this as they did most of the work on it. I merely put in a submission to the select committee and was on the parliamentary review board for 5 years after the reform, when all the local bodies were grappling with the thought that ‘prostitution’ may explode and every second person in NZ would be doing it, or coercing schoolgirls to do it, boat loads of migrants would be heading this way, etc. Obviously this didn’t happen.
NZ Is a small country and the sex industry internationally is a slowing business with the advent of sugar daddy sites, online porn, cam sites, tinder, (they are mostly also part of the sex industry but they have affected the part we occupy)
What makes us different to the Swedish model is that this was all brought about by a group of sex workers who fought tirelessly to be heard. NZ consulted with and listened to what sex workers had to say. We take into account that humans willingly choose to be sex workers and therefore should be afforded the same rights and protections that anyone else is afforded. We also understand that clients are not all predatory creeps and that the sex industry does more good than harm in the world if it is respected and supported.
So to be a sex worker in NZ means that you are legally considered a valued member of society and can go about your life legally and without fear of being arrested, or harrassed by govt agencies. In fact there is a world leading case of an NZ sex worker taking the owner of the agency she was working at to the human rights tribunal and winning a sexual harrassment case against him.
Hotel workers and uber drivers don’t give a damn if you are a sex worker, and no one is encouraged to point out someone going about their business as a sex worker. Sex workers aren’t at risk of having their children taken off them purely because they are sex workers.
What kind of struggles and experiences do sex workers typically face? Why do people become sex workers in the first place?
Sex workers face the same struggles as any other human trying to make their way in the world, plus stigma and judgment. Even though we have a decriminalised industry there is still stigma. Moral judgments come into play mainly and general misconceptions. Banks won’t loan money to sex workers, or sex work businesses, and now some banks won’t allow sex workers to open business accounts. Insurance companies charge us 40% more than any other industry. Landlords are unlikely to rent to sex workers for business purposes if they know – although some don’t care as long as the rent is paid.
People say that sex workers don’t pay tax, but many many of them do but to avoid being judged they may pay tax as some other occupation so any statistics on sex workers paying tax will be very skewed because of this. There is also the very real fear that if you go on a government record as a sex worker it may some day come back to bite you, due to the stigma still associated.
People become sex workers for varied reasons but generally because it is something they want to do to make a living. For some it suits their university life and helps them live well, have money without having to work 40 hours a week and study, have some social time and have little or no debt at the end of study.
Some sex workers do this work because of mental health – if they are having a bad day or week then they can just not work. Having kids can be hard to juggle with a full time job, sex work may fit in with that. But many people do sex work simply because it is something they want to do as a job. – Sex work is work!
Is there anything else that can be done to make sex work safer?
There will always be more that can be done, but NZ is headed in the right direction with sex workers having access to all forms of support and services the same as anyone else – police, the courts, labour dept, health services, and we have nzpc to advocate for sex workers in most instances. There are fines for clients who try to coerce sex workers to do things they don’t wish too, like not use condoms. Sex workers will take clients to court if they don’t pay, that kind of thing, but really the ultimate is educating the general public and men in general who make up the bulk of sexworker clientele. A large majority of sex workers are female and so lack of safety comes often from a lack of respect for women in general, then black women even more and Trans workers even worse – which all comes back to societal attitudes to these groups. Education people!!!
Does feminism have a role to play in sex work .i.e in decriminalisation or protecting sex work?
Feminism is helpful when it covers ALL women but there are a lot of exclusionary feminist groups around who cannot believe that anyone would CHOOSE to do sex work. So they believe that sex workers must be too stupid and/or too damaged to be able to think for themselves and see what a bad thing it is that they are doing. Also not all sex workers are cis female so people fighting for and supporting sex work should be more humanist and also some feminists may be a little anti male therefore judging the clientele and making them all out to be very bad people when in fact they are just men. So there are feminist groups that are very harmful to sex work and the safety of those working in it.
Could you explain what Funhouse is and where the idea came from?
Funhouse came from a combo of my experience in the industry, desperation to keep a BDSM business afloat once I realised it wasn’t a viable business in Wellington and a women who generously shared her overseas experience in high end agencies with me to take me from high volume to high end. Funhouse has become synonymous with work smarter not harder and learning to love your work and yourself into the bargain. It is the most supportive, smart, nurturing environment in the industry today. Unrivalled anywhere – but one of our sayings is ‘Funhouse, setting new standards’ which is what we have done and people try to emulate us.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
There is so much to add on this topic, but I could be here all night – I hope this helps get the good word out.
Also here are two answers from a current sex worker.
For question 2:
The struggles SWs face: the stigma placed on the work is worse than anything about the work itself, even under decriminalisation. In NZ, people doing sex work while on temporary work visas (eg students, working holiday-ers) can be and are deported, causing devastating personal, social and financial damage. Elsewhere, police and state violence – see ‘Revolting Prostitutes’ by Molly Smith and Juno Mac, published by Verso.
Why do people become sex workers? The same reason any person ‘becomes’ any type of worker (think about the wording of this question): because the way our society is structured, we need money to survive. For many SWs, SW is the best option for them in their circumstances, often due to its flexibility. For example, for full-time student with debt and rent to pay who don’t have time for a full time job, sex work can provide a full-time income at a fraction of the working hours. For people with kids and other caring responsibilities, there are not many jobs flexible enough to support them around their other responsibilities. For people with other jobs: teachers, nurses, office workers, hospitality and retail workers, cleaners: many of these jobs do not pay enough!! So we do sex work to supplement our income.
For question 4:
Does feminism have a role to play? Of course it does. Not bullshit carceral “abilitionist” feminism a la Bindel and friends – but feminism that understands bodily autonomy, that understands the difference between consent and desire, that understands the complex interplay of structure and agency, and that understands the nature of work and capitalism, that understands that sex workers are capable of making decisions about what’s best for them, that understands and respects the complexity of sex and intimacy!!!