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Sex workers: Your rights

Who can do sex work

Can anyone be a sex worker?

There are only two rules about who can legally do sex work in New Zealand:

  • you have to be 18 or over, and
  • you have to be a New Zealand or Australian citizen or resident.

If you are on any kind of temporary visa, doing sex work is illegal and you could be deported.

Can I do sex work if I’m under 18?

Prostitution Reform Act 2003, ss 20–23; Case: [2012] NZCA 189

Yes and no. If someone who is under 18 does sex work, they can’t be arrested or prosecuted for that. But it’s illegal for everyone else involved. If you’re under 18 it’s illegal for a client to use your services and illegal for anyone to employ you or organise clients for you or profit from your sex work, or to help or encourage you in any way to do sex work.

Any client or operator who is involved with an under-18-year-old doing sex work can be prosecuted, even if the under-18-year-old told them they were older. It’s a client’s and operator’s responsibility to make sure they don’t work with people who are under 18.

Can I do sex work on a temporary visa?

Prostitution Reform Act 2003, s 19

It’s illegal to do sex work if you are in New Zealand on any kind of temporary visa. If the police or immigration officials find out that you’re doing sex work while on a temporary visa, you might be deported.

However, you still have lots of rights under New Zealand law, and the police can help you enforce them.

Remember though that there is a risk you may be deported while enforcing your rights. It is a good idea to get advice from the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) or a Community Law Centre while you decide what else to do.

If you were brought to New Zealand by someone else in a “trafficking” situation, you can go to the police and get a special kind of visa so you can stay in New Zealand. For information about these human trafficking visas, see the chapter “Immigration” under “Family violence, vulnerable migrants, and other special visa policies”.

Here are some of the rights you have, even if you are doing sex work illegally on a temporary visa:

  • the right to give or refuse consent to sex
  • the right to insist on safer sex practices, like using condoms and dental dams
  • the right to be paid what you and your client or boss agreed
  • the right to be safe at work
  • the right not to be bullied or harassed
  • the right to stop doing sex work whenever you want to.
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