SEXHUM New Zealand

In New Zealand, the SEXHUM project focused on the impact of the decriminalising Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA) on the lives and rights of migrant sex workers. Under the PRA, actions such as soliciting and brothel keeping have no criminal sanctions, and sex workers can work on the street, in managed brothels, or manage themselves and work from their own home or from an apartment hired by them for work. While any person who manages even one sex worker is required to obtain an operators certificate (s34, PRA), sex workers who are self-managing, with no one person in charge, can work in groups of up to four sex workers (s5, PRA), depending on local bylaws and district plans relating to employment at home (s12, PRA). 

Service provision to sex workers is provided by a government funded, peer national sex worker organisation, the Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Workers’ Collective (NZPC) which played a central role in achieving Decriminalisation in 2003. Compared to all other SEXHUM setting, national sex workers and migrant sex worker who are permanent resident report comparatively much greater trust in and access to effective assistance by police and the justice system if victims of a crime. Stigma against (non migrant) sex work has reportedly decreased since the introduction of Decriminalisation and trafficking experiences were not reported.

However, crucially the PRA makes it illegal for migrants on temporary visa (such as a student visa, work visa, working holiday visa, skilled migrant visa, or visitor visa) to work in the sex industry. Its Section 19, which was added last minute against advice by the NZPC as an Anti-Trafficking clause, specifically states that no person may come to NZ with the intention of becoming a sex worker, brothel owner, or operator if they hold a temporary visa. Asian migrants are occasionally racially profiled and denied entry if suspected to be willing to engage in the sex industry. 

Migrant sex workers on temporary visas, and particularly those racialised as Asian, report racial profiling by police and immigration during checks, fear of deportation and mistrust of police and authorities, lack of access to justice when victims of sexual assault, theft, violence and other crimes, blackmailing by clients and operators who threaten to report them to authorities, and lack of access to health assistance for fear of being reported to authorities and deported. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, the national sex worker organisation NZPC helped national and permanent resident sex workers getting access to benefits and government support, many got the support independently either as sex workers or as sole traders (without specifying their involvement in sex work). Migrant sex workers on temporary visa had no access to any COVID-19 state aids unless they were also working in other sectors. NZPC attempted to help migrant sex workers as much as possible, for example informing them of (backdoor) ways of accessing some benefits but had no means to help them financially.