Discrimination and harassment in the sex industry
Can my children be taken from me because I’m a sex worker?
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?
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?
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
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”.