A 30-year fight for sex work­ers

The Hutt News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.’’

CAMERON BURNELL/STUFF

The New Zealand Pros­ti­tutes Col­lec­tive co­founder Cather­ine Healy says this coun­try is lead­ing the way in sex work­ers’ rights.

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