Calls for New Zealand to repeal its ban on migrant sex workers

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent
Source (institute/publication)

New Zealand must repeal its ban on migrant sex workers to ensure the benefits of its decriminalisation model are extended to all sex workers, says NSWP member organisation the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective

In a new report published in April, migrant workers describe being violated, racially abused, overworked and blackmailed by clients. The ban on migrant sex workers also means that there are widely held fears about turning to authorities due to fear of deportation. Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue said New Zealand law might have been ‘world leading’ at the time, but now required an amendment to include migrants.

NZPC co-founder Catherine Healy cited a recent case when contacted by migrant workers requiring support, in which NZPC had to reassure the women that immigration officials were unlikely to be notified by police. She added that Officers helped address the issue in that case, but action is needed to formally protect migrant sex workers so that they can seek support without fearing deportation. A ‘firewall’ between police and Immigration New Zealand was needed to formalise such protection, she said. 

Minister for Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway issued a statement outlining his current concerns that overturning the ban might ‘encourage sex trafficking’, but he also stated that he would be ‘open to any new evidence that may be presented on this issue’. NZPC co-founder Catherine Healy explained that trafficking and abuse experienced by migrant sex workers would be best prevented and addressed by removing the ban, and granting rights to migrants.

Despite earnest searches for trafficking in the sex industry, and many people who say there is trafficking, Healey says, when you ask them about a case they've dealt with, they can't name one. Newly published GAATW research, co-authored by Victoria University criminologist Lynzi Armstrong and the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective (NZPC), has backed up the anecdotal evidence from sex workers. After interviewing migrant sex workers in New Zealand, it notes, "all participants were unequivocal that they had not observed or heard of any cases of people being forced to come to New Zealand to engage in sex work”.  

"This was consistent with existing data, which shows that despite intensive investigations by Immigration New Zealand, no cases of trafficking in the sex industry have been identified to date."