Internet believed to be changing the business of sex

The internet has been the equaliser for prostitutes, cutting-out middleman brothel operators, says a sex worker.
SIMON MAUDE / FAIRFAX NZ

The internet has been the equaliser for prostitutes, cutting-out middleman brothel operators, says a sex worker.

Before becoming a prostitute, Sophie worked reception for an Auckland brothel and vowed she would never be a "working girl" in one.

Sophie, not her real name, set up shop seeing clients out of her own Mt Eden home eight years ago and "absolutely" believes the internet is causing a decline of traditional, large brothels.

Ministry of Justice supplied figures seem to support Sophie's claim.

'Sophie' calculates her income is at least double what prostitutes working in brothels get.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

'Sophie' calculates her income is at least double what prostitutes working in brothels get.

Since the 2003 passing of the Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalised prostitution and brothels in New Zealand, there has been a steady decline in the number of brothel operator certificates issued.

READ MORE:
* Inside New Zealand's brothels
* Work-from-home laws trip up brothel
* Restrictions to brothels urged

 
People thinking running a brothel is "easy money" are mistaken, says former brothel owner "Sophie".
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

People thinking running a brothel is "easy money" are mistaken, says former brothel owner "Sophie".


Special certificates are required for anyone who manages a sex worker – so all brothels need to hold one. Also if there are five or more sex workers working together, one of them must hold a certificate.

In 2004 in the first flush of legalised sex for money, 326 certificates costing $250 each where granted nationwide.

The next year, another 87 applications were made.

Brian Le Gros, owner of Auckland strip club The White House.
MICHAEL BRADLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Brian Le Gros, owner of Auckland strip club The White House.

But the decline was rapid. Just 164 of those first certificates where renewed within a year.

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And today in 2016 just 43 certificates remained active in 2016 with another 11 pending.

The drop out of the market still continued, with 39 certificates expired and not renewed by the end of 2015.

"After the law change there was a 30% increase in sex workers feeling more able to decline client's requests," says ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

"After the law change there was a 30% increase in sex workers feeling more able to decline client's requests," says Catherine Healy, NZ Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator.

Brothel certificates, are sealed court-controlled documents, which cannot be released detailing even general information like where brothels are dispersed around the country, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said.

But a 2006 University of Otago study, The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers, estimated there were 856 "managed sex workers" in Auckland with another 551 "working privately".

Since then, Sophie believes the number of private sex workers has caught up with managed workers.

Sophie used to run a four-worker sex business that didn't require a certificate, but is now a "sole-trader".

High running costs and low profit margins made the business of running a micro-brothel stressful, she said. Her operation lasted just six months.

People who think running a brothel is "easy money" are mistaken, she said.

"I'd be in a bar and overhear conversations like, 'I hear someone bought a brothel and are making megabucks', but I would say most operators are barely breaking even."

Adult entertainment industry veteran Brian Le Gros, who owns Queen Street strip club the White House, said smaller, non-certified sex-work operators were "knocking over the big ones".

"Why should I pay [the government] for the pleasure of having a brothel when I've got an apartment, three of them sitting across the road, and I could pay nothing?

"That's why there's such a big drop in licenses," Le Gros said.

But the internet has been the equaliser for prostitutes, cutting-out middleman brothel operators and offering clients a more discreet service, Sophie believes.

"A lot of guys don't want to go to a brothel and see other guys there, guys don't want to pick from a bunch of girls in a lineup, they feel uncomfortable".

At the same time she started soliciting, several adult multi-media websites like NZ Girl started offering prostitutes advertising superseding much less compelling newspaper classifieds.

"The internet, that and mobile phones, it's absolutely changed things," Sophie said.

"Before I [became a prostitute] I worked as a receptionist in a brothel for five years, brothels at that stage where run by guys, girls where treated like numbers, I thought to myself I'll never work for someone else."

Sophie calculates her income is at least double what prostitutes working in brothels get while the long-touted sense of security brothels offer prostitutes is overplayed.

"I've been in the trade eight years, I haven't met any weirdos, touch wood."

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator Catherine Healy said the 2006 Otago university research showed decriminalisation has largely empowered sex workers to say no to coercive clients and employers.

"We know after the law change there was a 30-per-cent increase in sex workers feeling more able to decline client's requests," Healy said.

 - Stuff

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