Restricting Christchurch street prostitution could violate Bill of Rights - council report

Christchurch City Council will on Thursday consider options to prevent sex workers from working in residential areas.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Christchurch City Council will on Thursday consider options to prevent sex workers from working in residential areas.

A bylaw restricting street prostitution will open Christchurch City Council up to legal challenges and could violate the Bill of Rights, a staff report says.

The council is trying to figure out how to prevent prostitutes working in residential areas after numerous complaints from residents in St Albans and the central city.

The residents are upset at having to clean up faeces, used condoms, needles and used wet wipes left in their letterboxes. Their children have been woken up by prostitutes yelling and singing to each other and arguing with clients over prices.

Footage from a camera positioned at the corner of Manchester and Purchas streets in May 2016 shows the prostitution ...
CHRISTCHURCH CITY COUNCIL

Footage from a camera positioned at the corner of Manchester and Purchas streets in May 2016 shows the prostitution activity residents put up with.

St Albans resident Matt Bonis pleaded with council last month to enforce the public places bylaw, but a staff report to be discussed by council at a meeting on Thursday said street sex work was a difficult commercial activity for the council to investigate and enforce under that bylaw.

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"The council would need to prove a commercial activity is occurring in a public place," the report said.

The report said with street-based sex work, the commercial transaction/activity being undertaken for payment often did not happen in a public place. It happened on empty private property and in cars.

"There is also no clear 'advertising' taking place."

If the bylaw was to be used then a permit system would need to be created whereby street sex workers would be granted permits to work in certain areas, the document said.

The report also considered creating a new bylaw to regulate the location of street-based sex workers. However, the bylaw would need to be carefully drafted so it did not breach the Bill of Rights and avoided recriminalising prostitution.

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A new bylaw would cost the council up to $20,000 to introduce and another $136,000 a year to enforce, however the police could be given the power to enforce the bylaw, reducing the cost to the council. Another $20,000 to $25,000 would need to be set aside for a legal review. 

Police have told the council they would be prepared to enforce a new bylaw, but would encourage sex workers to comply before taking enforcement steps.

Council gave the police authority in 2015 to seize windscreen washers' equipment and prosecute them under the public places bylaw. This saw windscreen washing at intersections largely cease overnight.

But the document said the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective (NZPC) believed any regulatory approach would be ineffective because street sex workers would not get permits or pay fines. When soliciting was a criminal activity, it still occurred anyway, NZPC said.

NZPC, Salvation Army and the Youth and Cultural Development Society said there had been less activity north of Bealey Ave in recent months and it was a matter of time and encouragement for workers to move back to traditional areas, the report said. 

Council would decide on Thursday whether to consider a new bylaw or to continue working with relevant agencies and residents to address issues faced by residents.

If council decided to take a non-regulatory approach, staff would report back on its success by March next year and the body could consider a regulatory approach then.

 - Stuff

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