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Sex workers: Your rights

Discrimination and harassment in the sex industry

You and your children: Parents and sex work

Can my children be taken from me because I’m a sex worker?

Case: [2016] NZFC 3545

There is no legal rule that says sex workers can’t be great parents.

In a dispute between parents, the Family Court has to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child. In one case, grandparents wanted to stop their grandchild being returned to the child’s mother because they thought she was a sex worker. The judge said this wasn’t relevant and returned the child to the care of both her parents.

For more information on care arrangements, see the chapter “Parents, guardians and caregivers” and if Oranga Tamariki is involved, see the chapter “Dealing with Oranga Tamariki / Ministry for Children”.

Discrimination in the sex industry

Can I discriminate against some clients?

Human Rights Act 1993; Prostitution Reform Act 2013, s 17; Case: [2012] NZHC 2859

Yes, you can choose not to have sex with someone for any reason.

By contrast, if you were offering a less personal service, like cleaning or building, New Zealand’s anti-discrimination laws say it would be illegal for you to discriminate against people on the basis of things like race, religion, sexual orientation and so on.

The anti-discrimination laws have some exceptions for things like very personal counselling services, where you can specify that you only see women, for instance. There’s no exception like that for sex work.

But because the right to give or refuse consent for sex is protected in the prostitution laws, and courts have said that it is more important than other rights, it seems likely that a sex worker is allowed to refuse clients on any basis, including sex, race, religion and so on, and doesn’t have to say why.

For more information about discrimination, see the chapter “Discrimination”.

Can a brothel operator discriminate against me?

If you are an employee, a brothel operator can’t discriminate against you in hiring or conditions, on the basis of any of the illegal grounds of discrimination – things like sex, race, sexual orientation, and political belief. You can see the full list of illegal grounds in the “Discrimination” chapter.

However, most sex workers are not employees – or are not treated as if they are employees. The discrimination rules don’t apply if you are an independent contractor, so a brothel operator can discriminate in how they treat you and this won’t be illegal.

Can banks and other businesses refuse to serve me because I’m a sex worker?

Human Rights Act 1993; Cases: [2014] NZSC 139 – [2015] NZSC 105 – [2016] NZFC 3545

They probably can. It’s not illegal to discriminate against someone because of what they do for a job, so a bank could decide not to serve you because you do sex work, and that would not be illegal under the anti-discrimination laws.

The courts have said though that a person’s sex work history is not relevant for some other things, like whether someone is a good parent, or whether an attacker could assume a sex worker was consenting to sex.

You can make a complaint to the Banking Ombudsman if you think a bank is treating you unfairly, at www.bankomb.org.nz

Did this answer your question?

Starting and leaving a job

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal information, advice and education about employment law issues.

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment


The Employment website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment publishes a range of publications on employment relations and minimum rights at work.

Free phone: 0800 20 90 20, for general enquiries about employment relations, pay and holidays.

For translated employment information go to www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/rights-and-responsibilities/minimum-rights-of-employees-translations/#minimum

Reporting migrant exploitation


Make a complaint to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment about migrant exploitation with this online form.

If you need help completing the form or would like to speak to an interpreter, call 0800 200 088 between 8:00am – 5:30pm, Monday to Friday. You will be connected with an interpreter after you say the name of the language you speak.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Te Kauae Kaimahi


Phone: (04) 385 1334
Email: info@nzctu.org.nz

The NZCTU is the umbrella body for affiliated unions covering every job and industry in New Zealand. It can provide information about which union may cover the type of work you do.

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective


A nationwide organisation run by sex workers for sex workers. They provide information and services for people who are doing sex work or thinking about doing sex work.

Phone (04) 382 8791
Mobile and media inquiries: 027 496 0700
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz

Migrant worker organisations

Union Network of Migrants – UNEMIG


Part of FIRST Union

Phone: 0800 863477

Migrant Workers Association


Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz

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