My interview with a sex-worker

So, I recently contacted the NZPC(New Zealand Prostitutes Collective). I spoke with the chairperson,Ms Healy,  who very kindly took time out of her schedule to let me interview her by phone. I found the conversation interesting. I did not agree with all of the stances of Ms Healy or the NZPC, but I did appreciate some of the work they have done and the opportunity to stretch my understandings of some things.

In terms of sex work there are 4 models that most countries adopt in response. First there is the traditional criminalization model where buying and selling sex is equally illegal. Then there is the New Zealand model, which is complete decriminialization of buying and selling sex. There is a slightly different model of legalization, which means that prostitution is legalized and therefore regulated by government. Then,  Tthere is a newer model that is being trialed in Scandanavia. Under this model selling sex is decriminalized, but buying sex is still criminalized. There is also a massive shame component to it, where the persons buying sex have their identities published in the papers. I personally have a lot of questions about all of these models.

One helpful thing that I believe NZPC has done is change the terminology around sex work. They prefer to use terms like sex workers, managers etc. And I believe this does give people encountering the issues less bias and more ability to talk about the issues with authenticity and not just dogmatic reproach. I believe it is important to respect every human whether I agree with their stance in life or not. Granted, I find it much more difficult to respect some individuals who choose to perpetrate trauma on others. But my actions and my responses define my character, not theirs. So I try. And I would encourage everyone to try.

I also support the legalization of selling sex. From all the studies and all the therapists who work with sex workers that I have talked to, it does seem the majority of sex workers have suffered previous sexual trauma in their lives. I see no need to further traumatize people who have made non-violent choices in response to their abuse. I also know that a lot of sex workers feel they do not have many other options. I would also not want to traumatize anyone trying to support themselves or their families by any means possible. Because the reality of the world is that it is a difficult place and it is hard to survive….let alone thrive.

One thing I did not agree with the New Zealand model is that with complete decriminalization also came complete lack of governing structures around the industry. There used to be a registry with the police. And I can absolutely see the need to have that one done away with, as it was used to harass sex workers from their point of view. However, because sex workers are not registered unless they are part of a brothel, I feel there is a gap in the protection of underage people pressured into sex work and in migrant workers, neither of which are legalized populations for sex work in this country. I would rather have legalized sex work where any independent contractor is required to gain a business license which checks things like legal status and age. I had to for my business, and it only seems logical to make that happen so that people who come from overseas to this country and underage people can not be forced into sex work and if they are their abusers can be brought to justice more easily.

The other interesting thing that I am still pondering is a critique Ms. Healy had of the Scandianavian model. She said that they had heard reports that in that model the sex workers were also named and the information was used to expel them from their residences. That doesn’t seem just to me. I wouldn’t want someone who is an atheist to find out that I am a christian and expel me from my house, so I wouldn’t want anyone else to be in that situation because of a difference of beliefs either.

But at the core of it, one of the reasons I wanted to speak to NZPC was because I wanted to know from their perspective how much of a problem trafficking is in this country. Ms. Healy didn’t believe it was a large possibility because of the difficulty in getting clients in this country.  I did further research on some of the reporting around sex work in New Zealand and found that although there are migrant sex workers the majority do not feel they have been trafficked, they came and are participating willingly.

What I came away with were questions around the nature of sex and whether it should be a commodity. Ms. Healy felt it should be okay if someone wanted to buy or sell sex. I was and am concerned about how that frames sex between humans though. I spoke with one psychotherapist who works with sex workers. She said that in her experience the way sex work operates is that the participants have to emotionally detach from the situation. And I don’t think this is how humans operate best. At it’s heart, I truly believe sex should be about relationship. And when sex is made a commodity it adds an unhealthy level of power brokering. If a woman sells sex to make herself feel more powerful against men, she is gaining power in very risky behaviour that has a great likelihood to cause herself harm. When a person buys sex, it is too easy for the brain to translate that to buying a body. Which is why you see so many cases where someone has purchased sex, but then believes they have purchased the right to harm the person they have hired.  Outside of relationship, the level of vulnerability required from the act of sex(any sex) is not something that can be given while maintaining healthy safe boundaries around one’s self at all times. And while some jobs require a high level of risk because they are good for the overall society, like ambulance workers and police, sex is not a realm where high risk should be present in my opinion. Sex is a natural desire and need. But to demand its satiation by any means turns a beautiful, natural thing into lust. And lust is not beautiful.

But that’s my two cents. I still really respect the NZPC and Ms. Healy for what they are attempting to do to bring more justice to the world of sex work.They do good work with advocacy for and education of sex workers.  And I do believe there needs to be more acceptance and compassion for sex workers on the whole in the world. But I maintain reservations around the nature of sex and paid sex.





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