A 30-year fight for sex workers
Felling trapped in her life as a teacher, Catherine Healy became a prostitute. She talks to
Acareer leap from primary school teacher to sex worker was a curious move for Catherine Healy. She didn’t wear lipstick and had never worn heels, let alone owned a pair.
But it was a liberating and interesting world for the then 30-year-old who would go on to fight successfully for a change in the law to decriminalise prostitution.
She’d taught at schools around inner-city Wellington for nine years before the desire to break out of the institution took hold.
‘‘I wanted to see more, do more, feel more. I wanted to break out.’’
At the time she was flatting with a woman who she discovered was working as a prostitute.
Healy was horrified by the fact and couldn’t comprehend why she had chosen this path.
‘‘I felt I had to rescue her but I’ll never forget her vehemence.
‘‘She made the point that I had no right to impose that view. She was very compelling.’’
So compelling that Healy went out with her one night and took home one of her clients.
She experimented but decided at that point sex work wasn’t for her.
But in 1986 she answered an ad to be a receptionist in a massage parlour as a way to supplement her teaching wage and solve the problem of a credit card bill racked up by frequent trips abroad (‘‘I was a complete Indiaphile’’) during the generous school holidays.
Soon after she became a sex worker herself and took a year’s leave of absence from teaching. At the end of that year she knew she didn’t want to go back to her old job.
She worked in a brothel in what is now the General Practitioner bar on Willis St.
‘‘It was full of such interesting women. They were so knowing. I thought I was worldly but they were very clued up, very savvy. I was terrified.
‘‘They were extraordinarily glamorous and wore completely over-the-top dresses and gowns, big shoulder pads. This was the 80s.
‘‘I’d never worn high heels or lipstick in my life. I was more into tramping.’’
The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective cofounder Catherine Healy says this country is leading the way in sex workers’ rights.