The New Zealand Model in Action

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If, like me, you’ve heard the news today that a former army officer has been found guilty of raping a Wellington sex worker (link to story below), you might have some pretty mixed feelings, as well as questions. It’s beyond awful that not only was her consent so disregarded, but that she had to go through a trial as well; it is to be applauded that she persisted in her pursuit of justice, and that she won her case.

To recap, if you haven’t read the news, a client offered extra money (and, somewhat astoundingly, also a voucher) for penetrative sex without a condom, and was told no. He then went on to secretly remove the condom during sex, and continued when the sex worker noticed and told him repeatedly to stop. She later found the condom hidden under a pillow. He was guilty and yesterday was sentenced to four years prison for rape.

This most recent case shows that the New Zealand model of decriminalisation works: sex workers are taken seriously, their consent is taken seriously and protected by the law, and sex workers are believed. This is a result of steady dismantling of stigma since decriminalisation, as well as legislation that was built on listening to sex worker knowledge and experience.

Under the New Zealand model it is illegal to have unprotected penetrative sex with a sex worker. This clause is designed to protect sex workers and make it easier to enforce safer sex practices. Of course it protects everyone, including clients who don’t know their own sexual health status (and those who do – well done!). Sex workers are experts in sexual health, yes, but not only is it so very wrong to disrespect someone’s bodily autonomy, it is frankly idiotic to secretly remove a condom, in any context.

New Zealand law recognises that consent is conditional, and can be withdrawn at any time. Sex workers, like anyone else, are allowed to change their mind about having sex with someone, or about what kind of sex, even if a booking has already started. This case in particular emphasises that when a condom is an explicit condition of sexual consent, the deliberate removal of the condom during sex is rape. This would actually be the case in a non-sex work context too. But this case recognises that in a work context, secretly removing a condom is doubly illegal. That the jury and judge agreed that the removal happened despite repeated and clear communication of boundaries beforehand, was premeditated, and continued despite requests for the client to stop, shows that sex worker rights to be safe at work are recognised not only on paper, but upheld in a court of law.

It is also noteworthy that the New Zealand model protects a sex worker’s identity in court, so that the barrier of potentially being outed by pursuing justice has been removed. Pre-decriminalisation, it could pretty correctly be assumed a sex worker would not report assault or other crimes against them to the police. This is not the case anymore. Sex workers have also reported covert filming, and non-payment, for example. The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) supports workers in filing complaints, and have a solid relationship with the police. The access to justice that came with decriminalisation was not a given; it is also the result of years of effort by sex workers and the NZPC, who cannot be thanked enough.

And yes – sometimes condoms can come off accidentally. Trust us when we say we know the difference. Accidents are why using the correct condom size matters, as well as lube, and why sex workers might quickly check everything is still in place during sex. It’s not a big deal. We also don’t get offended if clients check  – mutual pleasure is built on small acts of consideration. If you have any questions at all about safer sex, ask your local sex worker! They know how to make safer sex feel really, really, really, good.

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News link:

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/512158/former-army-officer-jailed-after-raping-wellington-sex-worker