Christchurch City Council to consider law changes to stop sex workers in residential areas

The Christchurch City Council has decided to consider a new bylaw clause to prevent sex workers from residential areas, ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

The Christchurch City Council has decided to consider a new bylaw clause to prevent sex workers from residential areas, but it won't happen until September.

The Christchurch City Council will consider law changes to prevent prostitutes from working in residential areas, but not until September.

The decision has disappointed residents pushing for immediate action and the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), which says any regulatory approach will not work.

NZPC national co-ordinator Catherine Healey said she hoped the council would change its mind before making a final decision to adopt a new bylaw clause.

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 have had to put up with for years.

"From our experience, our knowledge tells us any form of regulation is doomed."

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She said regulations, laws, fines, permits and zoning did not make any impact on the amount of sex work that happened.

The council has been wrestling with how to prevent prostitutes working in residential areas after numerous complaints from residents in St Albans and the central city.

At Thursday's council meeting, residents pleaded with the council to take a regulatory approach to prevent prostitutes form working in residential areas.

The council decided to consider a new clause to its public places bylaw regulating the location of street-based sex workers, but a staff report on the issue was not expected until the end of September. 

After the meeting, St Albans resident Matt Bonis said the residents were frustrated the council seemed unwilling to treat sex workers like any other commercial operator, and have given them a free pass.

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"A number of residents are wondering why the rights and values of street-based sex workers can trump both the existing public places bylaw, and also their rights to enjoy a purely residential environment."

A recommendation to support a non-regulatory approach, which included working with agencies dealing with the sex workers, did not get enough support from the council table. 

Cr Sara Templeton said the council had yet to use all the tools in the tool box.

She did not want her children to grow up in a city that marginalised a certain part of the community.

The council also decided it would work with agencies to address the issues faced by residents before making a decision on a bylaw. Councillors would join the inter-agency group which included NZPC, the Salvation Army and the Youth and Cultural Development Society.

Cr Andrew Turner said the council's approach was pragmatic and gave it the opportunity to pursue non-regulatory options first.

Lawyer Duncan Webb, acting on behalf of residents, told the council the non-regulatory approach taken by the council so far had been ineffective and had fallen well short of resolving the issue.

He said it was not about taking a repressive approach to street-based sex work, but about ensuring it was regulated, legitimised and treated on an equal footing with other commercial activities.

"Clearly it would not be permissible for a coffee cart to operate at all hours at this location, neither would a busker be tolerated."

Suzanne Walker and her husband, Giles Goulden, told the council they moved from their Manchester St home, north of Bealey Ave, in 2013 because of the street workers.

"We were regularly verbally abused, physically jostled and on one occasion I was assaulted," Walker said.

"We don't need to feel sorry for these people, they are just people doing a job . . . and it needs to be curtailed."

Erica Kearse,​ of the Salvation Army's outreach programme, said a regulatory approach would be a backward step and increase safety issues and negativity between residents and workers.

"We don't want to see life become harder for vulnerable people such as street workers."

She said building toilets, bins and putting cameras up in a certain area would encourage street workers to go to that area. 

Bridie Sweetman, of NZPC, said the number of sex workers north of Bealey Ave had reduced, but many more would be willing to return to Manchester St once the road works finished. 

 - Stuff

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