New Zealand's biggest brothel controversies

By Paul Harper

Dr Neil Benson and wife Helen opened Whalers at Coopers Beach in the Far North in May 2006, but the business folded after six months. File photo / Chris Skelton
Dr Neil Benson and wife Helen opened Whalers at Coopers Beach in the Far North in May 2006, but the business folded after six months. File photo / Chris Skelton

John and Michael Chow's proposed 15-storey brothel in the heart of Auckland City is just the latest in a long line of brothel controversies in New Zealand.

Whether it is the proximity of the brothel to schools, or who owns the building the brothel is run from, brothels and headlines go hand in hand.

What women want?

Former MP Pam Corkery and business partner Rebekah Hay had hoped to open the world's first brothel for women in Auckland. The brothel, at the Masonic Temple in Eden Terrace, would have had a 24-hour bar, VIP lounge and "holistic centre" with day spa.

"Women will go to Pammy's to get a pedicure, a meal, a drink, and if they so choose sex with one of the male sex workers," the brothel promised.

However in June last year, the plans were abandoned.

Whatever floats your boat

Boat owners in Chaffers Marina in Wellington voiced their concerns in 2005 that a floating brothel in the area was a risk to boat security.

A public notice had invited clients to phone a number and enjoy some "private pampering" aboard a yacht in Wellington Harbour.

However management told media at the time the business had since closed down.

Taekwondon't

New Zealand Olympian Logan Campbell turned to the sex trade in 2010 in a drive to raise $300,000 to help him compete at the 2012 London Olympics.

However the taekwondo featherweight decided to sell his "high-class gentlemen's club" in Auckland, following criticism from the New Zealand Olympic Committee and Taekwondo New Zealand, who said athletes should set as an example to others.

Brothels and MPs

New Zealand politicians have also been caught up with the sex industry in recent years.

In 2009, Kanwal Bakshi, a first-term list MP for the National Party, gave notice to the tenants of a Mt Eden property he co-owned to move out after neighbours complained they were running a brothel. Bakshi acknowledged he had not told his boss, Prime Minister John Key, that a brothel was operating out of one of his properties.

One term Act MP Hilary Calvert caused a stir in 2011 when she admitted she owned the Queens Gardens building that is home to massage parlour La Maison in Dunedin. More bizarrely, her eyes adorned the top of the building.

Asked why she allowed the image to be used, the Dunedin lawyer responded she "didn't want anyone who was a stranger, who would sue you for using their image".

Sex doesn't sell in small towns

Recent attempts to open brothels in small towns have fallen flat, generally due to a lack of customers.

Following a dispute with Te Tai Tokerau Primary Health Organisation over after-hours care, Dr Neil Benson and wife Helen opened Whalers at Coopers Beach in the Far North in May 2006. However, by November the brothel was closed. Despite only a six-month life-span, Mrs Benson did not regret the business venture.

"It was an interesting project. The people that we met, the girls and the clients that came through, were really nice people," she said.

"It took a lot of mentoring and a lot of people skills, but when you've got four teenagers and a husband who's working away most of the time [as a locum], it was just too much," said Mrs Benson. "I don't like late nights."

Teresa McGregor opened "Promiscuous Girlz" in Dannevirke's Public Trust Building in September 2008. One month later, a "for sale" sign went up. In 2010, former Senior Sergeant Bruce Lyon converted the building into the International Police Museum, featuring a collection of model and real police vehicles, badges and caps from police around the world.

Like Promsicuous Girlz, Queenstown's Candy's Gentlemen's Club also saw a radical conversion after its demise. The brothel, on Shotover St, closed in 2008 after the building's lease ran out. The following year, the building was bought by Vineyard Churches Aotearoa NZ and was converted in an evangelical church.

In May 2007, Paul Hale, the manager of Club 100 in Napier, turned to the public after the brothel sustained major smoke damage in a fire.

Mr Hale appealed to local businesses to donate beds, couches and linen in return for advertising so the business could reopen.

The brothel did not have contents insurance and Mr Hale was concerned for his 10 "girls", who had families to support and bills to pay.

Not in my backyard!

Few people seem to want brothels in their neighbourhoods, and even fewer people want them near their child's school.

Recent years have several cases of angry residents protest and lobby local government after brothels have popped up near schools, churches and in residential streets across New Zealand.

Under the Prostitution Reform Act, which legalised prostitution in 2003, councils have the power to decide where brothels are located. However, in several bylaws restricting brothel locations have been found to be invalid.

In a poll in March last year of 1000 people, 66 per cent thought the law should be amended to ban brothels in residential areas, while 26 per cent did not think the law should change, and 8 per cent were unsure.

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