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Discrimination and harassment in the sex industry

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

Case: [2016] NZFC 3545

There is no law 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.

Can I discriminate against some clients?

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

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.

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.

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 Case: [2014] NZSC 139 Case: [2015] NZSC 105 Case: [2016] NZFC 3545

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 that a person’s sex work history is not relevant for some other things, like whether someone is a good parent, or whether someone 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.

Sexual harm at work

Crimes Act 1961 s 128 Case: [2014] NZHRRT 6

If someone else touches you without your consent, they are breaking the law. Being a sex worker doesn’t change this.

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
  • a client taking off a condom when you’re having sex, after agreeing that they will wear one
  • offensive or unwelcome sexual behaviour, including offensive jokes and explicit posters that have a significant effect on your wellbeing.

For more information, see: “Sexual harm”.

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Starting and leaving a job

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

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

Website: www.employment.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 20 90 20
Starting a job: www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/
Leaving a job: www.employment.govt.nz/ending-employment/

Te Kauae Kaimahi/
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions

Te Kauae Kaimahi 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.

Website: www.union.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: (04) 385 1334

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective

The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective is 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.

Website: www.nzpc.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: 04 382 8791
Instagram: www.instagram.com/_nzpc/

Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG)

UNEMIG or Union Network of Migrants is an association of migrant workers within FIRST Union.

Website: www.unemig.org.nz
Email: unemig@firstunion.org.nz 
Phone: 0800 863 477

Migrant Workers Association

The Migrant Workers Association NZ fights for migrant workers’ rights and against injustice and exploitation in the workplace.

Website: migrantworkers.org.nz
Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz
Phone: 0800 863 477
Facebook: www.facebook.com/migrantworkersassociationaotearoa/

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