The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA) decriminalized most of the activities surrounding prostitution in New Zealand, including brothel-keeping and procuring sex, making the owning and operating of a brothel and ‘managing’ someone in prostitution legal. While selling sex was not illegal before 2003, many activities associated with prostitution were. The PRA passed New Zealand’s parliament by a mere one-vote margin.
The stated intention of the reforms was to improve the safety, health and welfare of people in prostitution, and to protect them from exploitation and trafficking. However, since 2003, there have been increasing reports that decriminalization has not achieved its aims, as underage prostitution, exploitation, violence and harassment against people in prostitution continue.
Recent years have seen increased discussion in New Zealand on reforming prostitution legislation. Prime Minister John Key has criticised the impact of decriminalization, pointing out that it has not achieved its goals of eliminating underage and street prostitution. A political champion of decriminalization who was formerly in prostitution has, a decade later, labelled the law change “naïve”.
Freedom from Sexual Exploitation, together with women who have been involved in prostitution, and Stop Demand are advocating for New Zealand to shift its approach to be in line with the Nordic model. This means maintaining the decriminalization of people in prostitution and ensuring, where needed, that they are provided with support and assistance, but also criminalizing the purchase of sex in order to reduce demand—and consequently, the size of the market. This is seen as the most effective way to reduce sexual exploitation and trafficking and to move closer towards gender equality.