Students protest against suburban brothels

By Rebecca Blithe


Girls as young as 15 are being asked to work in brothels. Prostitutes are plying their trade in school grounds. It's too much for a group of Mt Roskill youth who are petitioning for their neighbourhood to be brothel-free.

Although many brothels in Auckland suburbs are being raided and shut down, that's not the case in Mt Roskill, and the young people have had enough. Saale Ilaua, 16, passes a brothel every day as he walks to school.

"There's a fence that you could see through and sometimes you'd see them in their underwear having a smoke out the back," says the Mt Roskill Grammar student. His nine-year-old sister knows what the brothel is and his 14-year-old brother's suspicions were confirmed by a client exiting the premises, says Saale.

"He was with his friends and they were sort of joking because they know what it is. They saw a guy coming out and they asked what he was doing in there. He said: 'Boom boom'.

"It's setting a bad example to the whole younger generation."

Saale attends a local youth group, Global Lighthouse, with Auckland University student Lineti Latu, 20. The pair led a group to gather 500 signatures in a petition to have brothels removed from their suburb.

They say they understand single-owner-operated brothels, or SOOBs, are legally allowed to operate in suburbs, but believe their presence creates problems in their community, including under-age girls being propositioned to work in them.

"We understand that it's been legalised but, as a council and government, they also have the power to restrict it," says Lineti. "It's an issue in our community. I've come across girls who have been in the brothel and it's almost like, now, they don't know how to function in society. What we're doing is asking it to be restricted."

Her concerns are echoed by Mt Roskill youth worker Peter Leilua. Speaking with young people who visit the local youth centre, Mr Leilua says he is appalled by their experiences.

"They're seeing girls approaching guys and doing their business on playgrounds in schools, not taking it back to their place. We've got a lot of girls in our youth programme who are finding it hard to find work. For them, they could see it as an opportunity to make a quick buck for their family. They're under-age; we just dealt with two girls being approached to do it. They're under 15. To them, if they're being approached, they have support from us but, for others, they might not have that.

"It's just inappropriate. It is scary, and disgusting in a way. That's our issue, for council. How can they let this be going on in communities that they want to be good communities."

Auckland Council manager of regional and local planning, Penny Pirrit, says the council is considering options for amalgamating bylaws established by former councils. Although it is intended the new policy will be in place by the end of the year, she says it is unclear just what that policy will be and "whether the general provisions ... will be sufficient to address the potential negative impacts of brothels and SOOBs on the community".

What is clear is that there will not be a complete ban on SOOBs from residential areas, but changes will be seen in some places.

"Auckland Council has inherited a range of quite distinct approaches to the management of SOOBs. Some councils banned them from residential areas - a position which would not be likely to have stood up if legally challenged - others allow for them to operate but only in specific residential areas, and others relied on home occupation provisions (see panel) in their district plan to determine where and how SOOBs could locate.

She says the council would look at any negative impact in an area, and look to address that, but a ban would breach the national Prostitutes Reform Act 2003.

Because the act is put in place to "legalise and decriminalise prostitution", council bylaws and planning rules cannot undermine this. In the past, cases have cropped up where councils' bylaws have been overturned because they run contrary to the act's intent.

"Whatever controls we have, we can't push prostitution out of Auckland completely. Some of the concerns are moral concerns which, as a council, we can't control. It's like we can't stop someone approaching you and offering to buy you alcohol; we can't stop a prostitute approaching you, although morally, we would say that's not right".

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