If you’re dissing the hookers you ain’t fighting the power

Reprinted from Not Afraid of Ruins blog.

The new Auckland Supercouncil has voted to support a submission in favour of the Regulation of Prostitution in Specific Places Bill. This law would let Supercouncil pass bylaws banning street workers in specific areas.

Arguments in favour of criminalizing street workers are usually about protecting families, and moral values, and community standards, and ‘won’t somebody think of the children?’

But sometimes these arguments are also about ‘won’t somebody think of the hookers?’ because, according to Sandra Coney, ‘she supported the bill because prostitution was harmful to women and led to violence and murder’.

Let me break this down for you:

Yes, being a street worker probably isn’t an ideal employment situation for most workers. It’s possible that some street workers work on the street because they truly prefer it. But I suspect most sex workers who work on the street are doing it because they don’t have other options, like working at a brothel, or for an escort agency, or hiring a flat to work from. Maybe brothels and agencies won’t hire them because of a drug dependency or maybe because they’re transgendered or maybe they just managed to piss off all the bosses and maybe they can’t afford to put an ad up on nzgirls.com and hire a flat or a hotel room.

The point is that those sex workers who work on the street are usually the ones who are most marginalized, most disadvantaged, most discriminated against and most vulnerable to exploitation. Sandra Coney is right to worry about their safety. But she is living in an alternate universe if she thinks giving the police more power over street workers is going to protect them. Actually, all that’ll happen is that the police will have even more power to exploit and oppress street workers. This law will allow police to arrest anyone they think might be a sex worker. Who do you think police think might be a sex worker?[1] This law isn’t going to prevent sex workers from working on the street. Because it doesn’t actually address any of the reasons some sex workers end up working on the street. All this law will do is make street workers’ lives more difficult and more dangerous.

Now, I get that sex workers working on the street does create some problems, like for examples used condoms and syringes in the streets[2]. There’s lots of really useful things the council and the government could do about that. They could install medical waste bins on the street, so there’s a place to dispose of syringes and condoms safely. They could provide sex workers with a safe indoor premise to work from. They could fund food banks, council housing, medical clinics, drug rehab support, even job training[3]. They could address some of the root causes of the problem, like transphobia, drug prohibition and poverty. All of these would be way better uses of resources and energy than criminalizing street workers.

Supercouncil isn’t going to do any of those things, because doing them might make the council look like they’re not being morally disapproving enough of sex work. And this law has nothing to do with protecting sex workers, or even other residents who aren’t sex workers, it’s all about protecting Auckland’s public image and making the council look like it’s upholding Moral Values.

Meanwhile the NZ Herald reports that the sex industry is expected to boom during the rugby world cup. You know what I think? I think GOOD. If I have to live through the mind numbing obnoxious infuriating bullshit that is the world cup, at least lots of hookers are going to make good money. I hope all the rugby fans are considerate and respectful clients, and I hope they tip big.

The herald seems concerned about foreign workers coming to New Zealand to work illegally in the sex industry. But they aren’t sure why they’re concerned. On the one hand, they’re worried about people abusing the immigration system, and that a ‘significant amount of revenue’ will leave the country. On the other hand, they are deeply concerned about the harsh conditions for foreign sex workers. Foreign sex workers are ‘exploited and live in appalling conditions’.

I am also deeply concerned about the harsh conditions for foreign sex workers. And other foreign workers. And local workers too. I am deeply concerned about the harsh conditions for workers.

If we are serious about protecting foreign sex workers from being exploited and living in appalling conditions, we have to start by not criminalizing them. Tourists who come here on a temporary work visa are specifically prohibited from working in the sex industry. I know the official justification for that is that it’s to prevent human trafficking, but clearly it’s not having that effect. The real reason for this policy is to avoid ‘tarnishing New Zealand’s reputation’.

How about we start prioritizing the rights of sex workers ahead of New Zealand and Auckland’s reputation?

[1] The answer is: transwomen, brown women, women who look poor, women who look like junkies, women who look slutty.

[2] Although I don’t see an inherent link between street workers and dirty needles. Not all sex workers are drug users and not all drug users are sex workers.

[3] I’m not suggesting that sex workers should be ‘rehabilitated’ into Upright Citizens. I think people who want to stop doing sex work should be supported to do so, and people who want to keep doing sex work should be supported to improve working conditions for themselves and their fellow workers.


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