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The New Zealand Model

Sex work is decriminalised in Aotearoa

It is not against the law to work as a sex worker or operate a brothel, nor is it against the law to pay for sexual services. However, it is against the law for any third party to facilitate anyone under the age of 18 into sex work. It is also illegal to do sex work if you are visiting New Zealand on a temporary visa. These issues are discussed below.

New Zealand is the only country in the world with a law which aims to uphold the human rights of sex workers and to decriminalise prostitution. This country’s decriminalised approach is known as The New Zealand Model.

 

What does the law look like in practise?

Sex workers in New Zealand can determine their work conditions.

This means Sex workers can meet their clients in a variety of settings, such as a brothel, private dwelling, or outdoors.

They can work for themselves, or with friends, from home or an apartment. Sex workers can also do street-based work, or work in brothels which are operated by someone else.

Sex workers have the absolute right to decline clients without providing a reason

In accordance with both Criminal Law and the PRA (2003), nobody – including brothel operators, receptionists, minders, or clients – can force a sex worker to have sex, even if a client has paid.

What does the law look like in practise?

Sex workers in New Zealand can determine their work conditions.

This means Sex workers can meet their clients in a variety of settings, such as a brothel, private dwelling, or outdoors.

They can work for themselves, or with friends, from home or an apartment. Sex workers can also do street-based work, or work in brothels which are operated by someone else.

Sex workers have the absolute right to decline clients without providing a reason

In accordance with both Criminal Law and the PRA (2003), nobody – including brothel operators, receptionists, minders, or clients – can force a sex worker to have sex, even if a client has paid.

Who regulates sex work businesses in New Zealand?

There are a variety of different bodies which have responsibilities relating to various aspects of sex work businesses, just like any other workplace.

Some of these include Ministry of Health, Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise, Ministry of Justice, Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), Immigration New Zealand, Medical Officers of Health, Inland Revenue Department, and the Police.

The laws pertaining to sex work are the same as those for other workplaces in this country; sex workers are able to have the same labour rights as workers in other occupations.
They are entitled to workplace protections and access to healthcare.

There are Occupational Safety and Health Guidelines which have been developed by OSH in consultation with NZPC, sex workers and brothel operators.

What is the purpose of The Prostitution Reform Act (2003)?

The Prostitution Reform Act was passed in 2003. It replaced laws criminalising sex workers and third parties.

”The purpose of this Act is to decriminalise prostitution (while not endorsing or morally sanctioning prostitution or its use) and to create a framework that –

  • A. Safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation:
  • B. Promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers:
  • C. Is conducive to public health:
  • D. Prohibits the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age:
  • E. Implements certain other related reforms.

Who regulates sex work businesses in New Zealand?

There are a variety of different bodies which have responsibilities relating to various aspects of sex work businesses, just like any other workplace.

Some of these include Ministry of Health, Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise, Ministry of Justice, Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), Immigration New Zealand, Medical Officers of Health, Inland Revenue Department, and the Police.

The laws pertaining to sex work are the same as those for other workplaces in this country; sex workers are able to have the same labour rights as workers in other occupations.
They are entitled to workplace protections and access to healthcare.

There are Occupational Safety and Health Guidelines which have been developed by OSH in consultation with NZPC, sex workers and brothel operators.

What is the purpose of The Prostitution Reform Act (2003)?

The Prostitution Reform Act was passed in 2003. It replaced laws criminalising sex workers and third parties.

”The purpose of this Act is to decriminalise prostitution (while not endorsing or morally sanctioning prostitution or its use) and to create a framework that –

  • A. Safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation:
  • B. Promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers:
  • C. Is conducive to public health:
  • D. Prohibits the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age:
  • E. Implements certain other related reforms.

The role of the Police in New Zealand is to work with the community to make it safe - and sex workers are part of the community. In other words, under The New Zealand Model, sex workers have the same recourse to justice as anyone else.

What does the law look like in practise?

Sex workers in New Zealand can determine their work conditions.

This means Sex workers can meet their clients in a variety of settings, such as a brothel, private dwelling, or outdoors.

They can work for themselves, or with friends, from home or an apartment. Sex workers can also do street-based work, or work in brothels which are operated by someone else.

Sex workers have the absolute right to decline clients without providing a reason

In accordance with both Criminal Law and the PRA (2003), nobody – including brothel operators, receptionists, minders, or clients – can force a sex worker to have sex, even if a client has paid.

What does the law look like in practise?

Sex workers in New Zealand can determine their work conditions.

This means Sex workers can meet their clients in a variety of settings, such as a brothel, private dwelling, or outdoors.

They can work for themselves, or with friends, from home or an apartment. Sex workers can also do street-based work, or work in brothels which are operated by someone else.

Sex workers have the absolute right to decline clients without providing a reason

In accordance with both Criminal Law and the PRA (2003), nobody – including brothel operators, receptionists, minders, or clients – can force a sex worker to have sex, even if a client has paid.

Brothels are allowed in most places, in accordance with local by-laws

A brothel is any premises habitually used for sex work. Some councils have not allowed brothels to operate in some areas, however they cannot ban brothels outright.

Some councils have made by-laws that affect the signage and location of brothels. Councils make rules about home based-occupation, which sometimes outlaw home-based sex work.

Brothels must display signs promoting safer sex practices

The Ministry of Health has published posters which spell out the requirements for safer sex practices. These are available from NZPC and are free.

All parties must take reasonable steps to practice safe sex
Everyone; including brothel operators, receptionists, clients, and sex workers, must take all reasonable steps to ensure safe sex is practiced. It is important to use condoms and/or dental dams for vaginal, oral, and anal sex.

Operators’ certificates are required

An operator is a person who has any form of control over a sex worker and their work. This usually means someone who hires and fires, or who sets shifts, fees, and other conditions.

They must obtain a certificate from Auckland District Court, who issues them in strict confidence – even Police cannot inspect their records.

Up to four sex workers can work together, as equals, without requiring an operators’ certificate – so long as no one is in control of anyone else or their work.


 Immigration laws affect sex workers and operators

If you need a work visa to be employed in New Zealand, you cannot legally come to this country and be a sex worker or brothel operator.

If you hold a temporary visa, or if your permanent residency carries a special condition, you can be deported if you get caught working in the sex industry.

Note: NZPC supports all sex workers, whatever their immigration status.


 It is unlawful to ‘facilitate’ or assist anyone under the age of 18 in providing sexual services

If you are under the age of 18, you are not breaking the law if you are in sex work.
However, it is illegal for anyone to pay someone under the age of 18 for sex.
Brothel operators, clients and even friends or workers aged 18 or over can be fined or imprisoned for facilitating people under the age of 18 into sex work.Even giving someone under the age of 18 a ride to work or making sure they have condoms may be considered to be facilitating.
Note: NZPC supports all sex workers, whatever their age.

Leaving sex work If you are a sex worker who wishes to find other work, you can receive Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) payments without any extra stand down period being imposed for leaving your job. WINZ is not allowed to tell you to continue working as a sex worker.

How did New Zealand achieve decriminalisation?

We have produced a video which explains how decriminalisation was achieved here. We also have videos which compare our laws to those of other countries.

Decriminalisation is advocated by the United Nations, the World Health OrganisationAmnesty International, and peer-led sex worker organisations throughout the world.

International policy makers look to The New Zealand Model as a template for reform in their own countries.

Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee (2008)

The The Prostitution Law Review Committee concluded that decriminalisation has improved the occupational health and safety of sex workers:
”The Prostitution Reform Act has had a marked effect in safeguarding the rights of sex workers to refuse particular clients and practices, chiefly by empowering sex workers by removing the illegality of their work.”
The Prostitution Law Review Committee’s report can be read on the Ministry of Justice website.

How did New Zealand achieve decriminalisation?

We have produced a video which explains how decriminalisation was achieved here. We also have videos which compare our laws to those of other countries.

Decriminalisation is advocated by the United Nations, the World Health OrganisationAmnesty International, and peer-led sex worker organisations throughout the world.

International policy makers look to The New Zealand Model as a template for reform in their own countries.

Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee (2008)

The The Prostitution Law Review Committee concluded that decriminalisation has improved the occupational health and safety of sex workers:
”The Prostitution Reform Act has had a marked effect in safeguarding the rights of sex workers to refuse particular clients and practices, chiefly by empowering sex workers by removing the illegality of their work.”
The Prostitution Law Review Committee’s report can be read on the Ministry of Justice website.

Challenges to the New Zealand Model

Opposition to decriminalisation comes from fundamentalist groups and some feminists. Sex workers and our allies in civil society must often restate the case to uphold our rights.

In 2013, the faith-based organisation, Freedom from Sexual Exploitation, submitted a petition to parliament, lobbying for New Zealand to adopt The Swedish Regime – which criminalizes the clients of sex workers and other third parties, (this may include brothel owners, security, other sex workers, landlords, and whānau sharing a house with a sex worker, among others).
The Justice Committee took the petition up as a Parliamentary challenge conducted a thorough review, and strongly rejected their petition, commenting:

We appreciate the petitioner’s concerns about street prostitution. However, we are aware that the eradication of street-based prostitution has not proved to be achievable in any jurisdiction, and simply banning it may have negative consequences for the health and safety of sex workers. We support the Prostitution Law Review Committee's conclusion that local approaches are likely to be most effective in dealing with street prostitution.

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