Hookers happy with law change

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Sex workers feel safer since prostitution was decriminalised, politicians have been told.

To mark the fifth anniversary of MPs voting for decriminalisation, sex industry representatives and politicians gathered at Parliament yesterday.

The Prostitution Reform Act makes it compulsory for prostitutes to practise safe sex; gives them coverage under employment law; and introduced occupational health and safety guidelines to the trade.

A Justice Ministry committee's review of the act found that 90 per cent of sex workers felt the legislation had given them rights and more than two-thirds felt they were able to report violence and abuse to the police.

"People in this business are now out in the light, there are many people and agencies who are able to help," committee chairman Paul Fitzharris said.

Mr Fitzharris, a former assistant police commissioner, said people needed to realise that many prostitutes, particularly those on the streets, enjoyed their work.

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"When I talk to mainstream New Zealand, they are absolutely gobsmacked that they would feel that way."

The act's sponsor, Labour MP Tim Barnett, said he was pleased with the review's findings.

"The problem with the old law was it had a coy code language that dealt with [prostitutes] in an unfair way. [The act] increased penalties for genuinely harmful activity and protected sex workers from criminalisation, which trapped people in sex work rather than deterring them."

Prostitutes at yesterday's event said the law change had improved their working conditions.

"One of the biggest advantages of the law is having legal back-up," one unnamed woman said. "From time to time you get clients who want to have sex without protection.

"Generally they accept [having to wear a condom] but if they try and keep on arguing, you have some basis to tell them to leave."

A 25-year-old who began working in New Plymouth nearly eight years ago said decriminalisation had evened up the balance in power between prostitutes and their clients.

"When you're in control ... it makes you feel good."

The Dominion Post