Wellington, 13 January 2020
Following the murder of Bella Te Pania in Christchurch, Speak Up For Women, a New Zealand-wide feminist organisation, is calling on the government to conduct an overdue review of the impact on women and girls of the decriminalisation of prostitution.
Te Pania is the fifth prostituted woman murdered in Christchurch since decriminalisation and the women’s group says decriminalisation is failing New Zealand’s most vulnerable women and girls.
Ally-Marie Diamond, a sex trade survivor who spoke against decriminalisation to the South Australian and Northern Territory parliaments in 2019, says: “Decriminalisation has been a nightmare for the girls. The pimps and johns are emboldened operating within the law and the women have been commoditised”.
The report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee (2008) expressed concern “that there are still some managed sex workers who are being required by brothel operators to provide commercial sexual services against their will on occasion.”
Ani O’Brien, spokeswoman for Speak Up For Women, says: “The reality of life for prostituted women in New Zealand was last reviewed 12 years ago; A thorough review is urgently needed”
New Zealand has one of the highest domestic violence rates in the world, and was also the first to decriminalise prostitution with the introduction of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. Links between violence against women and pornography and sexual exploitation have been established all over the world.
According to Bella Te Pania’s friend, Janice Bullman, Bella wanted to exit prostitution and had succeeded for a time. Speak Up For Women are concerned that exiting services are not being prioritised by NGOs receiving funding in this area.
“In the 2008 review, the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective commented that even talking about exiting was ‘offensive’,” says Ani O’Brien. “This is concerning for us as we are hearing from prostituted women for whom escaping exploitation is of utmost importance. Especially for those on the streets, like Bella.”
Supporters of decriminalisation say New Zealand’s status as the first country to decriminalise is an indication of how progressive the law is. However, those who doubt the efficacy of decriminalisation instead point to the ‘Nordic Model’ as global best practice.
The Nordic Model approach decriminalises the prostituted, provides support services to help them exit, and makes buying people for sex a criminal offence, in order to reduce the demand that drives sex trafficking. This approach has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland, and Israel.
Ani O’Brien says: “We’re calling on Julie Anne Genter as Minister for Women to lead a thorough investigation into the conditions of prostituted women under decriminalisation.
The NZPC says everything is fine, but we’re hearing a very different story from New Zealand women with experience of prostitution.”
Notes to the editor:
1. Information on the Nordic Model https://nordicmodelnow.org/
2. Ally-Marie Diamond’s speech to the South Australian and Northern Territory parliaments in 2019 https://nordicmodelnow.org/testimonial/ally-marie-diamond/