“New Zealand has been named as a “source country” for sex trafficking of underage girls and a destination country for forced labour in a sharply critical report released by the US State Department.”
While Trafficking for sex work is not the only kind of trafficking, it is the type of trafficking that is perhaps spoken of most. This is probably because salacious stories of sexual slavery sell news papers and titillate peoples imagination, unfortunately while many people have a sense of horror around trafficking, this does not turn into action. The general picture people have in their heads – vulnerable foreign women duped into being trafficked as sex workers is only one part of the story. Often left out of the equation is domestic trafficking, something that happens far more often in our own backyard than people want to believe. Runaways and homeless youth are particularly at risk of domestic trafficking.
It is important to remember that not everyone who participates in sex work is trafficked, and I don’t believe perceiving sex work in this way is helpful in stamping out genuine cases of trafficking. There are people who choose sex work and it is a reasonable choice. In many feminist/womanist spaces women who choose sex work are treated as though they don’t exist because they do not fit into the tragic victim model of sex workers. Erasing the experiences of a group serves to compound their oppression. At the end of the day any policy that effects sex workers has to take into account the views of *all* sex workers. This means making an effort to negotiate and understand who has power and privilege amongst sex workers. Consultation is not meaningful if it only takes into account the views of brothel owners who have very different concerns from regular sex workers.
As a comparatively progressive nation it is easy to think that we are doing everything right. Sex work is legal in New Zealand, which in my opinion is a good thing. Part of the point of making sex work legal is being able to enforce good labour practices, but this needs to actually be done. Legalisation on its own is not a magic solution that prevents exploitative practices within the industry, it is simply a tool and just like any other tool, it is only as good as the hand that wields it. We have an opportunity to develop nuanced and responsive policy around sex work and exploitation in New Zealand. It is important that we do not let it slip through our fingers.