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Communtity Law Manual | Starting & leaving a job | Health and safety in sex work

Sex workers: Your rights

Health and safety in sex work

Whether you are an employee or an independent contractor, a brothel operator has to make sure your workplace is safe and healthy for everyone who is there, including sex workers.

More than that, whenever you are doing sex work, you are “at work” and protected by the health and safety laws (see the chapter, “Employment conditions and protections”, under “Health and safety protections”).

Safer sex

Operators have a specific duty to make sure all sex workers and clients follow safer sex practices. Since sex work was decriminalised in 2003, several clients have been prosecuted for refusing to use condoms.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault

Crimes Act 1961; Case: [2014] NZHRRT 6

Sexual harassment at work is illegal, and that applies to sex workers just like anyone else (see the chapter, “Resolving employment problems”, under “Unfair treatment, discrimination or harassment at work”).

Sexual assault is any sexual contact that you don’t consent to. Sex workers, like anyone else, can withdraw consent for any kind of sexual activity, at any time. If someone forces sexual contact on you, that is a crime.

So the following kinds of things are illegal – they’re either sexual harassment or the crime of sexual assault:

  • a client groping you in a waiting room, or at any time when you’re not providing sexual services
  • a client doing something or forcing you to do something that you haven’t agreed to
  • offensive or unwelcome sexual behaviour, including offensive jokes and explicit posters that have a significant effect on your wellbeing.
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