NSWP congratulates Catherine Healy from New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective (NZPC) on being made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the rights of sex workers.
In an interview Catherine said: "I've worked as a sex worker and I've led a sex worker rights organisation. It's not really something that lands in our court. It's not something I would have expected. In fact, I always say I expect to be arrested at dawn, not to have this kind of tremendous honour and I was just very affected, very touched."
Catherine has campaigned for sex workers’ rights extensively in New Zealand and beyond, and has been involved in the sex workers’ rights movement for more than 30 years. Catherine co-founded NZPC in 1986, and helped to develop the Bill that led New Zealand to become the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work.
Under the law in New Zealand, brothels, escort and private services are effectively decriminalised under the Prostitution Reform Act of 2003. The Act removed sex work from criminal legal frameworks and recognised sex work as a legitimate occupation, subject to labour regulations.
The Act ‘safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation, [and] promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers’. Evidence from New Zealand shows that decriminalisation supports sex workers’ human rights and improves their access to health and other services, and is a core demand of the sex worker rights movement globally.
In 2003 NZPC supported a sex worker to sue her employer for sexual harassment in the Human Rights Review Tribunal, and Catherine has said she is “incredibly proud” of the sex worker who took the case forward. However, she also said there is more to be done to support sex workers’ rights in New Zealand, including tackling stigma and discrimination, and vulnerable workers. She has recently spoken about how the law must now be extended to migrant sex workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation under the current ban on migrant sex workers working in the country. In 2013, NZPC carried out a study which showed strong support for an amendment to the Act to protect migrant sex workers.