03:21pm Monday 23 October 2017

Research into safety in the NZ sex industy

University of Canterbury economic researchers Dr Laura Meriluoto and Dr Rachel Webb.

 Drs Laura Meriluoto and Rachel Webb, along with Associate Professors Annick Masselot and Sussie Morrish, and Otago researcher Associate Professor Gillian Abel examined the factors that affect the likelihood of sex workers experiencing physical and sexual violence, theft and threats by clients. The authors have had their paper accepted for an economic publication.

Dr Meriluoto says they found that alcohol, drug dependency or both more than doubled the risk of violence in the industry.

An earlier survey found that 38 percent of all the sex workers in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland had had at least one adverse experience relating to sex work during a 12-month period.

“Twenty-three percent of all those surveyed had money stolen or client refuse to pay, 20 percent had been threatened with violence or received abusive text messages and 16 percent had been subject to physical violence, rape or had been held somewhere against their will.

“Evidence from other countries suggests that the incidence of violence in the New Zealand sex industry is relatively low.

“While this is encouraging news for the sex industry in New Zealand and gives some support for the merits of decriminalisation, clearly more work needs to be done to further reduce victimisation of sex workers. The aim of our study was to gain further understanding about the industry risk environment in New Zealand.

“The street sector appears to have more violence overall simply because there are more sex workers who use alcohol, drugs or both than in the indoor sector. Our research showed that the street sector had more theft and threats than other sectors even after controlling for alcohol use and other individual factors.

“We found that street sex workers face less violence and theft in Christchurch than in Auckland, which could be due to the more compact nature of the street sector in Christchurch. We also found that sex workers who work for brothels and escort services are subject to more violence in Christchurch than in Auckland.

“The sex industry in New Zealand was decriminalised in June 2003 when all of the laws that had previously criminalised activities associated with sex work were lifted with the passing of the Prostitution Reform Act,” she says.

“It was expected that the new legal status would shift sex workers from the street sector that is considered a relatively risky environment to brothels, escort agencies and private work that are considered the relatively safer.

“However, decriminalisation appears to have had little effect on the number and proportion of street-based workers. Street-based workers are unlikely to move indoors because their motivations to work in this sector are, unlike indoor workers, not driven so much by a need for safety but more by a need to maximise their earnings and remain autonomous.  Furthermore, our study found that the street isn’t in fact more dangerous than the indoor sectors when it comes to violence.

“Street work has many benefits, including flexible working hours and not having to pay a cut of the earnings and it appears that these benefits have outweighed the perceived costs of the sector, including any security concerns, to many sex workers that have chosen to remain in the street sector. 

“A new survey would be useful for estimating the effects of decriminalisation on the likelihood of adverse incidents as well as to see what has happened in the last eight years. We could explore the effects of the Christchurch earthquakes which displaced sex workers from their usual locations of work,” Dr Meriluoto says.

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications 
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168


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