Legal prostitution hot topic at Oxford debate

Last updated 05:00 20/02/2010
SPEAKING UP: Catherine Healy is following in the footsteps of David Lange by debating at England's Oxford Union. She will argue to legalise prostitution.
SPEAKING UP: Catherine Healy is following in the footsteps of David Lange by debating at England's Oxford Union. She will argue to legalise prostitution.

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Twenty-five years after New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy was debated at the prestigious Oxford Union, our prostitution laws are taking centre stage.

The Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator, Catherine Healy, will enter the debating chamber in England next week, to argue that prostitution should be legalised.

Squaring off against her will be a top British policeman and a conservative American lobby group.

"The nerves will be a bit jittery. I'll need to calm down on the flight over," she said. "Every word matters, in the sense that I'll be representing what New Zealand and its law have meant for women."

It is 25 years since former prime minister David Lange came to the world's attention at the Oxford Union.

He fiercely defended New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance with a speech that included the line: "If you hold your breath just for a moment ... I can smell the uranium on it as you lean towards me!"

Ms Healy said she was honoured to follow Mr Lange.

"It was a radical thing he was debating at the time, and prostitution law reform is a similar radical idea."

Ms Healy will debate against Superintendent Alan Caton, who works near Ipswich, where several prostitutes were murdered four years ago.

Janice Crouse, from family issues lobby group Concerned Women for America, will also argue prostitution should be illegal.

The prospect of a tough debate does not worry Ms Healy. She has fought for the rights of sex workers for years. A former teacher, she had been planning to head overseas before getting involved with the sex industry in the 1980s.

Prostitution became legal in New Zealand in 2003.

"I think I've got quite a bit of experience debating the issue."

British interest in New Zealand's legal sex industry was sparked by a BBC documentary. Two women from the Women's Institute visited on a fact-finding tour, voting Wellington brothel Bon Ton the best brothel in the world.

Its madam, Jennifer Souness, will also be at the debate. "I really wanted to show my support."

Though not debating, she hoped to join in during the question and answer session.

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- The Dominion Post

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