Before the last local body election the Manukau City Council promoted a local bill that would have made prostitution on its streets in nominated areas illegal. The bill reflected the frustration felt by Papatoetoe residents. Hunter’s Corner in particular was known as an area frequented by streetwalkers.
The bill attempts to reverse the reforms contained in the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. That Act essentially recognised that prostitution is here to stay. It has been a phenomenon for most if not all of the history of the human race and all attempts to curb it or prohibit it have failed.
Instead of prohibiting the activity the Act tried to regulate and normalise it, so the lives of prostitutes could improve. Instead of being under the control of pimps they could control their involvement in the profession and have a say in their future. It was a really hard message to sell but for those in the industry any improvement in control and protection was welcome.
A review of the effects of the Act published in 2008 concluded that the number of sex workers on the streets was approximately the same as before the Act came into force in 2003. In some cases numbers had appeared to have slightly reduced, contrary to allegations that they had increased. Sex Workers appeared to be more empowered, and their perceptions of control had improved.
Protection of prostitutes had the opportunity to upset others. It is one thing if the activity is kept hidden in a discrete small suburban brothel, but as soon as the profession became visible then many in the community understandably become upset.
The Manukau Bylaw did not promise to sort all problems, it provided that if streetwalkers worked prohibited areas then they could be arrested and fined. I have sympathy with the desire to do something. But fining the offenders would do no more than add a further expense to their business’s bottom line.
It is not as if the local bill will add to police powers. The complaints by Papatoetoe locals are about behaviour that is clearly offensive and disorderly or involves the use of illicit drugs. Any police officer who witnesses such behaviour can arrest for any number of reasons.
So the desire to do something is understandable but the actual proposal is not going to help.
What is really strange is the insistence that a local bill designed to address one specific area in a South Auckland suburb should then be brought out to apply to all of the Super City. The proposal has ruffled some Local Board feathers, prostitution is meant to be one of three areas that local boards are responsible for, the others being dogs and booze. Yet Local Boards have been offered a briefing only on the changes.
Out west I do not believe that streetwalking is a problem. I cannot recall ever seeing a street walker. It may be that I am not looking in the right place, but I do not think that there is any evidence that the current law is not working.
The unfortunate thing is that the bylaw is seeking to recriminalize activity that the Prostitution Law Reform Act tried to deal with by other means. The bill is well intentioned but reinstitutes a control mechanism previously used that clearly did not work.