In 2003, the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) was passed, introducing a policy of full decriminalisation of the sex trade to New Zealand. Under this model, women in prostitution are no longer criminalised, like they were previously; but neither are pimps or johns. The PRA decriminalised women by legitimising prostitution, accepting it as business, or “a job like any other”. Here, guest blogger Kate (whose real name is protected for safety reasons) talks about why more women in New Zealand’s sex trade do not advocate for the criminalisation of pimps and johns, but not prostituted women – this is known as the “Nordic Model”.
The most obvious reason more women in prostitution in this country aren’t advocating the Nordic Model, is that they’ve never heard of it. In the Auckland brothel where I’ve been sold for sexual use for over ten years, I have met hundreds of other women, there for the same reason as me. Of all the women I’ve spoken to there about the Nordic Model of prostitution reform, only one of them had ever heard of the Nordic Model before I mentioned it. She, like me, was in favour.
There are further steps from being personally in favour of the Nordic Model to advocating for its introduction to our country. Many women do not take these steps to speaking out publicly.
The reasons are that first and foremost, most women in prostitution are far too busy just trying to earn a living and get through life to be doing additional, usually unpaid, work. Women in prostitution include single mothers, tertiary students, homeless women and those recently unemployed or down on their luck; women temporarily in prostitution just to reach a one off financial goal, such as acquiring the resources needed to leave an abusive relationship with their boyfriend or husband and set up their own home; women who have developed drug addictions, and so forth.
If a woman in prostitution in New Zealand had the time and energy to look into law and policy surrounding prostitution here, the first stop she might think to go is the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective (NZPC). Yet, NZPC does not distribute any information to prostituted women about the Nordic Model, or any alternative to New Zealand’s policy of “full decriminalisation”. The organisation was set up with the goal of introducing full decriminalisation to New Zealand, and they are very hostile to any prostituted woman who might question whether this was in fact in our best interests, and what alternatives might exist. I found this out first hand from my interactions with the organisation.
There is a huge gap between the laws and policies which surround the industry world-wide, and the (lack of) impartial education provided to prostituted women about the sex industry.
When women in prostitution do become educated about these issues, many switch from supporting decriminalisation to supporting the Nordic Model – including myself. Yes, I was in favour of blanket decriminalisation, when I thought the only alternative to this was for prostituted women to be considered criminals along with the the pimps and buyers who exploit them. Our previous laws criminalised prostituted individuals, and no woman wants a return to that. I had heard of criminalisation of the sex industry, and I had heard of decriminalization of the sex industry – the language doesn’t leave any possibility for an option that was neither.
When I did start speaking out against prostitution in favour of the Nordic Model online, I was met with a barrage of abuse from men asking me questions such as why I was “such a bitter cunt”, harassing me for personal details, and threatening me with rape and even death. I was warned by people like Rachel Moran (founder of SPACE international) that I needed to speak anonymously for my own safety; she told me that within a couple days after she came out connecting her real name to her pseudonym “Free Irish Woman”, she had pimps show up on her doorstep. She told me that the danger to me for speaking out would be higher, as I was still involved in prostitution unlike the exited women of her organisation. The group of radical feminists and exited women who support me, generally refuse to publish any of my words under my full legal name because it isn’t safe for me to do so.
There is also the issue that most women in prostitution don’t want anyone to know they are in prostitution, so they have to keep quiet about it. When they leave the brothel, they put it to the back of their minds and pretend like their experiences there didn’t happen. I was in a somewhat unique situation that everyone in my life already knew I was in prostitution including my estranged family. I had already decided that if anyone was going to judge me for this when I am completely innocent of any wrong doing, that they are not my friends – that I would be better off to know this about them sooner rather than later. I have had a long experience of abandonment, deceit and betrayal and I was over it.
I felt like I owed it to the rest of the women, who didn’t have the luxury of a voice since they relied on secrecy, to use mine. I also owed it to myself.
In addition to the barrage of vulgar abuse from men online, I am met with skepticism from women claiming to be on the side of women in prostitution, who advocate full decriminalisation of the sex trade (which includes decriminalising pimps and johns). My comments are routinely deleted, and I am blocked time and again by this demographic all while they repeat the mantra “Listen to sex workers“. They either don’t believe I am who I say I am, even while speaking under my real identity. Or “Listen to sex workers” actually translates to “Only listen to people who agree with blanket decriminalisation of the sex industry – and assume that prostitutes themselves fall into this category despite all evidence to the contrary”.
I, along with everyone else speaking out in favour of the Nordic Model have been labelled a “whorephobic bigot” and a “SWERF” (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist) by the very leftist people we expected would support us. And despite the obvious fact that I fit the definition of a “whore” or a “sex worker” and am not bigoted against myself. Although I wouldn’t use those terms to describe any of us – the former is an offensive slur, and the later is an inaccurate sanitisation.
I have been witness to the activism and research of many organisations and individuals far more educated and with far more writing talent than myself who have exposed the corruption of the so-called “sex workers rights” movement. This corruption includes the Amnesty International decision to support decriminalisation of the sex industry: Amnesty’s draft policy paper was written by an English pimp. There are also pages of evidence linking people with criminal convictions for pimping and trafficking with the international organisations for so called “sex worker rights”, like the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), of which our own NZPC is an affiliate. NZPC distributes near identical pro-sex industry propaganda.
While Amnesty was developing its policy, I saw multiple appeals for reconsideration and consultation with survivor organisations and researchers, and I saw them rejected and ignored. Amnesty went ahead and confirmed their final position in alignment with pimps rather than prostitution survivors, feminists, and un-biased researchers. I’ve seen articles where the NZPC has skewed its own research data in order to deceive the public that decriminalisation has resulted in greater safety for women in New Zealand. Clearly the opposite is true: I say this drawing on both the research, and my own fifteen years experience as a prostitute in Auckland, beginning before the Prostitution Reform Act was passed.
I see them all, time and time again, getting away with it, while women are ignored, silenced, insulted, harassed and threatened.
I have seen so much of this that the question for me has now evolved from “Why don’t more women in prostitution in New Zealand advocate the Nordic Model?” to “Why do I myself bother to advocate the Nordic Model in New Zealand, and wouldn’t my life be easier if I just gave up?”.
For more women in prostitution to be able to speak freely, this culture of silencing opposition to current decriminalisation policy needs to end. Women, including prostitution suvivors who reject the label “sex worker” – must be allowed to speak openly, and be heard when we do.
Image by the Untameable Shrews (@unatmableshrews).