125th anniversary of Suffrage in New Zealand

Parliament votes for prostitution reform

25 June 2003

Tom Scott cartoon about prostitution reform, 2003 (Alexander Turnbull Library, H-734-144)

The Prostitution Reform Act was passed on a tumultuous night in Parliament, with the public galleries filled with supporters from both sides. Christchurch Central Labour MP Tim Barnett had promoted the legislation as a private member’s bill. It passed by just one vote.

Previous laws relating to soliciting, brothel-keeping and living off the earnings of prostitution were repealed, as was the Massage Parlours Act 1978.

The key aims of the act were to safeguard the human rights of sex workers, protect them from exploitation, and to promote their welfare and occupational health and safety. It was an offence to coerce another person to provide sexual services or to pay for sexual services from a person aged under 18. It also became illegal for a client to have sex with a worker without using a condom.

A committee set up to evaluate the act’s operation reported in 2008 that the number of people working in the sex industry had not increased. More sex workers were operating privately, with fewer in managed premises. However, negative attitudes to sex work remained.

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