Not in My Backyard? Municipal Responses to the Decriminalization of Sex Work in New Zealand

Dana Hayward, Yale University

New Zealand became the first country in the world to fully decriminalize sex work when it passed the Prostitution Reform Act in June 2003. Even before ratification, local governments began to draft bylaws to restrict the activities of sex workers and the location of brothels in their towns and cities. The city of Christchurch embarked on what critics called a moral crusade against sex work, ultimately spending a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money to draft and defend a particularly harsh bylaw, often against the advice of its own lawyers. In 2004, the High Court of New Zealand struck down the Christchurch bylaw, ruling that it contravened the Prostitution Reform Act. In this paper, I explore municipal responses for decriminalization, asking: What explains the variation in local responses the Prostitution Reform Act? Specifically, why did Christchurch pass such a restrictive bylaw, and go to such lengths to defend it in court? Drawing on a qualitative comparison of Christchurch and Wellington, the only major city not to draft or amend a bylaw after decriminalization, I rely on newspaper data and council meeting minutes and reports to argue that local politics superseded municipal obligations under the new law. Specifically, in Christchurch, 1) the relative prevalence and visibility of street-based sex work, 2) the obligations placed on the city council by the Local Government Act of 2002, and 3) the pressures created by local elections and council restructuring resulted in the passage of a harsh - and ultimately illegal - bylaw.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 119. Regulating Criminal Bodies