Migrant sex workers abused
New Zealand must legalise sex work for migrants to prevent human trafficking, sex industry advocates say.
An international report has found no hard evidence of human trafficking in our sex industry, but abuse against illegal migrant sex workers is widely reported.
Migrant workers describe being violated, racially abused, overworked and blackmailed by their clients. They are also afraid to turn to authorities for fear of deportation.
The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 bans any temporary visa holder in this country from performing sexual services.
The report, published by Thailand-based Global Alliance Against Traffic In Women, says the policy creates conditions that are conductive to trafficking, rather than protecting against it.
Amy, a migrant sex worker from China interviewed for the report, said sex workers were encouraged to come to New Zealand to make large amounts of money.
Clients perceive Asian sex workers as submissive, frequently pushing boundaries and becoming abusive, Amy said.
‘‘They will grab you and say, ‘I’m gonna do this’ and you can say ‘no’ but they won’t listen to you.’’
Workers were said to have received multiple threats of Immigration New Zealand being informed, in order to extort free or unwanted services from them.
The New Zealand chapter of the report, written by Victoria University criminologist Lynzi Armstrong, in conjunction with the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective (NZPC), was launched in Wellington last night.
‘‘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,’’ Armstrong said in the report.
This was consistent with Immigration New Zealand (INZ) investigations that had found no cases of trafficking, she said.
NZPC co-founder Catherine Healy said there was no clear explanation for a lack of trafficking, by its strict definition, in New Zealand’s sex industry.
‘‘It’s been earnestly looked for. You’ll find a lot of people who say there is trafficking but when you
‘‘They will grab you and say, ’I’m gonna do this’ and you can say ’no’ but they won’t listen to you.’’ Migrant sex worker Amy
ask them about a case they’ve dealt with, they can’t.’’
Cases of exploitation warranted a repeal of the ban against migrants entering sex work, she said.
On Friday, Healy was contacted by two migrant sex workers who needed support to get out of a situation with aspects akin to trafficking.
NZPC had to reassure the women that immigration officials were unlikely to be notified by police.
A ‘‘firewall’’ between police and Immigration New Zealand was needed to formalise such protection, she said.
Both Immigration New Zealand officials and police were approached for comment on enforcement action.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said in a statement that current law met New Zealand’s obligations to the United Nations.
‘‘I support that stance because I’m concerned that any move to repeal [the ban against migrant sex workers] could encourage sex trafficking. But I’m open to any new evidence that may be presented on this issue.’’