Sex workers are safer, healthier and more willing to go to police since prostitution was decriminalised, but the stigma remains a problem, according to a book on the changing industry.

The book, which draws on the views of 772 sex workers, suggests more changes are needed to discourage underage people from going into the industry, and raises concerns about the vulnerability of immigrants working illegally.

Taking the Crime Out of Sex Work provides compelling evidence that the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) has achieved the aim of improving the human rights of sex workers, says author Gillian Abel, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago's Christchurch public health and general practice department.

"Sex workers in New Zealand do recognise their increased rights under the PRA, but in some cases, stigmatisation has impeded the achievement of their rights," the book's conclusion reads.

With knowledge of their employment rights, managed workers are more able to refuse to see certain clients, it says.

"With legal rights ensured, they are also more able to report instances of violence to the police.

"There is evidence that relationships between the police and street-based workers in particular are improving."

The book says social policies and services need to improve to prevent people under 18 from illegally entering the industry. Ms Abel said this could mean freeing up access to the independent youth benefit.

"Transgender youth are highlighted as being particularly vulnerable."

Immigrants who illegally entered the industry were seen as vulnerable to exploitation, and "inaccessible" for health and social workers.

The book says sexual health risks are seen by the industry as minor and manageable.

"Brothel owners/managers, community agencies and sex workers [said] ... most sex workers had already been practising safe sex prior to law reform. However, decriminalisation has further reinforced the ability to ensure safe sex."

Megan, who has worked in the industry for 30 years and owns a boutique parlour in Wellington, told the Herald the law change had created more competition, but also gave workers assurance.

The book can be bought from May 19 at policypress.co.uk

WORKERS' WORDS
Comments from sex workers on decriminalisation:

We are human beings, and if we're being attacked, we have the right also to the same protection as anyone else. [Now] you could just ring the police and they'd be up there like a shot.

- Josie, private worker

For the last couple of years, the police have been really good, really on to it. Now they actually care. Before ... if a worker [got] raped or anything like that ... there wasn't much they could do.

- Joyce, street and private worker
Source: Taking the Crime Out of Sex Work - New Zealand sex workers' fight for decriminalisation