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Communtity Law Manual | Starting & leaving a job | Where and how you can work as a sex worker

Sex workers: Your rights

Where and how you can work as a sex worker

Working in a “brothel”

Prostitution Reform Act 2003

New Zealand’s sex work laws call any sex work business a “brothel”. An operator of a brothel has to have a special licence, and must do things like making sure the sex workers are over 18 and use safer sex practices.

Most sex workers in brothels have signed agreements that say they are “independent contractors”, rather than employees. Read more about the rights you have under each of these working arrangements in the section below, “Your rights when doing sex work”.

Working in a SOOB (“small, owner-operated brothel”) with other sex workers

Prostitution Reform Act 2003

If up to four sex workers work together, with no boss, the law calls that a “small, owner-operated brothel”, or “SOOB”.

In a SOOB, no-one is in charge of another sex worker, and each person is in control of their own earnings.

People working in SOOBs don’t need an operator’s licence.

Working as an independent sex worker

Any sex worker can work for themselves, from their homes, or from somewhere else. You don’t need a licence to do this.

Can I do sex work from home?

Prostitution Reform Act 2003, ss 12–15

It depends on what town you live in, and what kind of home you’re in.

Councils are allowed to make rules about the locations of sex work businesses. Some ban sex work in residential areas, for instance. They can also make rules about advertising that’s visible to the public.

Councils can also make rules about anyone running a business from home, so make sure you are following them. You can phone the council to find out what the rules are in your area.

If you rent your home, your tenancy agreement might say you can’t do sex work from home.

If your home is part of a “body corporate” (or “body corp”) like an apartment building or a set of units, there will probably be a rule in your contract that says you can’t do sex work from home.

Can I “solicit” or do sex work from the street?

Yes. Prostitution Reform Act 2003, ss 7, 12–15

It is legal to “solicit”, or offer sex work from the street.

The prostitution laws say that councils can make bylaws about the location of brothels, but that’s not supposed to mean they can outlaw sex work.

Prostitution Bylaw 2009 (Hamilton City Council)

Hamilton City Council has a bylaw banning soliciting. It’s probably an illegal bylaw, because it re-criminalises prostitution, undermining the laws that have decriminalised sex work and prostitution. But we won’t know for sure until someone takes a court case against it.

Each council takes a different approach, so check what the rules are in your area.

If you meet your clients through street-based sex work, be aware that there are also laws and bylaws against littering, noise and causing a nuisance, so you need to be careful to follow those laws or you could be arrested and charged for those things.

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