Sex workers 'shouldn't be exempt from rules'

South Auckland's streets, car parks, public and sporting facilities, businesses and churches will continue to be used as brothels unless legislation is introduced to control prostitution, community leaders have said.

Local board representatives met with the Local Government and Environment select committee at a hearing in Mangere on Wednesday to discuss their submissions regarding the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill. 

A grim picture was painted as they outlined problems faced by their community which included offensive behaviour and violence from street workers, the clean-up of used condoms and clients approaching schoolgirls and female residents for services.

Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board chairman John McCracken told the committee the bill was important for his residents to help prevent activities incompatible with the character of the community.

"Every other business that trades in a public place, such as a busker or street stall holder, is restricted in their location and hours of operation.

"It is not fair that street-based sex work should be exempt from the rules that other businesses must abide by."

Commercial freedoms given to sex workers by the Prostitution Reform Act allowed them and their clients to exhibit behaviours and create problems that would be unacceptable for any other industry, he said.

"As a result our businesses, residents and visitors are having their rights and freedoms impinged."

Manurewa Local Board chairwoman Angela Dalton told the hearing street workers know there is little the council could do to penalise their behaviour.

Prostitutes used local shop mirrors to get changed, harassed shop owners and propositioned customers inside stores, she said.

"Simply having the ability to make a bylaw with better enforcement powers would strengthen the position of the council when dealing with sex workers and trying to resolve issues."

Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board chairman Peter Skelton said he was concerned that if prostitution problems in his area escalated the community would not have sufficient tools to deal with them.

Councillor George Wood and public law manager Helen White represented Auckland Council at the hearing.

Wood said when the Prostitution Reform Act decriminalised prostitution in 2003, Manukau experienced an increase in the numbers of street-based sex workers.

With that came an increase in associated problems with residents, business owners and people sharing public places with the sex workers.

The communities affected make up 5 per cent of New Zealand's population, he said.

"For this reason we believe our problems warrant the attention and intervention of central government."

White told the select committee bylaws the council could create under the current Local Government Act were toothless.

They were little use to council officers, unenforceable by police and could be challenged by judicial review, she said.

Without the bill a bylaw addressing the demand for street-based sex work would be useless, she said.

Submissions on the bill close on February 29. The select committee will report its recommendations to Parliament on July 1.

Fairfax Media