Sex Work: New Zealand Versus Scandinavia

February 28, 2016 in General

In the Sunday Star Times’ Sunday (28.02.2016) colour supplement, Jeremy Olds has compared the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (which comprehensively decriminalised sex work here) to the insurgent Scandinavian “Nordic” prohibitionist model.

One interviewer, expat British sex worker Bella argues that New Zealand sex work workers, researchers and activists all think we have it right, even if some dodgy brothel owners, underage workers and alcohol and drug abusers pop up occasionally under our liberal regulatory and legislative regime. At least it’s better than the Scandinavian/Nordic prohibitionist ‘model,’ which excludes sex workers from social and individual agency in favour of a prohibitionist moral judgement that prostitution is ‘inherently’ ‘degrading and exploitative’ for women. The prohibitionist European Women’s Lobby has pressured the European Parliament into passing a resolution to that effect. As well as Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada and Northern Ireland have all done likewise.

In the liberal Netherlands, Joep Rotner (University of Utrecht) is pessimistic about the prohibitionist crusade. Sweden’s prohibitionism is endangering the lives, safety and sexual health of sex workers, who are forced underground to work in unregulated brothels, whose owners can insist on unsafe sex, lack job security because they’re not covered under industrial relations legislation or occupational health and safety regulations, and have no way to warn others about violent and abusive clients. Thus, ironically, prohibitionism intensifies the abuse and exploitation of female (and transgender and gay male)sex workers. Moreover, prohibitionism conflates all sex work with human trafficking, overlooking its occurrence in other contexts such as the garment industry. Perhaps it is the case that New Zealand’s geographic isolation and small economy also protect us somewhat from human trafficking in the context of sex work, although it does occur in others as noted above. Moreover, Scandinavia’s prohibitionist regime is harshly criticised by their own sex workers and advocates. Apart from the odd crank like Gordon Copeland and Family First, most New Zealanders are satisfied with the way things are within the ambit of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003.

Source: Jeremy Olds: “Rules of the Game” Sunday: 28.02.2016: 17-18.

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