Managing Risks of Violence in Decriminalised Street-Based Sex Work: a Feminist (Sex Worker Rights) Perspective
It is widely understood that street-based sex workers are vulnerable to experiencing violence in their work. The Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) was passed in New Zealand in 2003, decriminalising sex work with the intention of supporting the health, safety, and human rights of sex workers. This thesis explores strategies to manage risks of violence amongst women working on the streets in New Zealand, considering how the law change has impacted on the management of these risks, and whether further change is required to better support the safety of street-based sex workers. Drawing from the perspectives of women working on the streets, this thesis challenges portrayals of street-based sex workers as passive recipients of violence. The experiences and perceptions of these women highlight the diverse violencerelated risks they managed from a range of potential perpetrators, including passersby, individuals approaching as clients, other sex workers, and minders. The shift to decriminalisation has not eliminated violence. However, the findings suggest that the law change has provided a framework that better supports existing risk management strategies. For instance, in removing the possibility of arrest for soliciting, the PRA has provided an environment in which these women have sufficient time to screen potential clients on the street. Moreover, the perceptions of these women suggest that the law change has to some extent improved the relationship between police and street-based sex workers. Nevertheless, whilst decriminalisation has created an environment more conducive to sex worker safety, it is clear that challenges remain in addressing violence against sex workers. Since the sex industry does not operate in social and political isolation, moral discourses continue to stigmatise and threaten the wellbeing of street-based sex workers. The overall conclusion of this thesis is that whilst decriminalisation was an important first step, moving forward to proactively challenge violence against street-based sex workers requires a paradigm shift away from discourses that support violence, to a more positive acceptance of street-based sex work in New Zealand society.