Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The re-criminalising poor sex workers bill

It has another, more euphamistic name (Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill), but what it is actually doing is re-criminalising poor sex workers.

This bill will make it an arrestable crime, punishable with a $2,000 fine, to buy or sell sex outside of a brothel in areas decided by the Manakau City Council (if it goes through it'll be the Auckland super city council).

It is specifically targeting street sex workers. Street sex workers do not generally have $2,000 to pay a fine. The fines, when they're awarded, won't have the magic power to stop someone being poor and working as a sex worker, it'll just make them poorer. It won't make street sex work disappear, it'll just make it harder, more dangerous, and more marginalised.

It'll give police officers, like Peter Govers and Nathan Connolly more power over some women. And whatever else your politics, that is reason enough to oppose this bill.

I would like to take a brief moment to draw your attention to a new reactionary tendancy on this issue within the Greens (who block voted for prostitution law reform). Two of the Green MPs voted for the bill and Russell Norman abstained (because he thought I needed another reason to hate him).

Three parties block voted (Act and National supported the attacks, the Maori party opposed them), Labour and the Greens split their votes. Nanaia Mahuta was the only woman from either of these parties to vote for criminalising poor women who work as sex workers. Now it physically pains me to say nice things about Labour and Green MPs, but I want to give credit to the feminist analysis and solidarity that those who opposed these bill showed. It shouldn't be noteworthy that women MPs voted the way they did. But the extent to which their male colleagues accepted criminalising women who were already marginalised as an acceptable side effect of protecting small businesses (as the rhetoric in defence of hte bill is all the poor shop owners whose lives are made harder by the fact that sex work happens near them), means that it is noteworthy in the context in which they're operating.

The contempt that those who voted for this bill have for sex workers comes through in the parliamentary debate. George Hawkins uses the language of 'plague' to describe street sex work - which is about as dehumanising as you can get. Others demonstrate their contempt through sneering and patronising - and claim that this bill is necessary to stop underage sex work.*

A few months ago I read this article about American criminal approaches to sex work, and I was horrified. How can anyone who stands in solidarity with women say that being criminalised in this way helps anyone?

I understand that there are nuanced feminist positions on sex work. But I don't think good feminist analysis of any kind, can possibly endorse life being made harder for poor sex workers.

* No I don't get it either. How driving street sex work underground magically stops kids from being sex workers wasn't explained.

No comments:

Post a Comment