Business owners and local bodies in South Auckland have been pleading for too long for a law to rid them of street prostitutes. No community should have to accept this trade being conducted in daylight on footpaths where other citizens, including children, are going about their daily lives.
This week the local boards of Mangere-Otahuhu, Otara-Papatoetoe and Manurewa issued an illustrated booklet to give people in more fortunate places an idea of the sights, sounds and even smells confronting shopkeepers and their customers. The booklet suggests many of those offering sex are male transvestites and the behaviour described is gross and threatening.
The chairman of the Otara-Papatoetoe board, John McCracken, said, "Children are seeing things they shouldn't see, shoppers are being intimidated and street workers operating in residential streets are keeping people awake. When asked to keep quiet they make it very clear they have every right to be there. What other industry would be permitted to behave in this way?"
The former Manukau City Council pressed hard for legislation seven years ago, but Parliament declined to act. The same Parliament had legalised prostitution a few years earlier and regarded a ban on street soliciting as a backward step. But National supported Manukau's bill at that time and a revised bill, introduced two years ago, may have a better chance of passing. A select committee is due to report the bill back to the House this month.
Rather than a complete ban on street prostitution, the revised bill would allow the councils to prohibit it from specified places, which would introduce needless difficulties. As fast as a street or a shopping precinct was declared off limits, the trade would move around the corner, or to some other unfortunate locality.
And how are councils to designate certain areas off limits? With signs? It is hard to see much wrong with the blanket ban originally proposed.
Street prostitution was not the main concern of those who decriminalised the activity nine years ago. The Prostitution Reform Act, as a Justice Ministry review has noted, "does not directly address street-based prostitution and makes no specific provision for its regulation".
It is time the law addressed that gap. It need not be as lenient on street traders as it is now on brothels. The case for decriminalisation was based on the hope that the whole inevitable business would be safer for all concerned if it was conducted in legal, licensed premises that were subject to regular hygiene inspections and less vulnerable to underworld threats and pressure. None of those checks and benefits can be extended to those who solicit at kerbs and go away in cars.
No sellers of any service are allowed to set themselves up for business in a public place. Those causing offence in the streets of Otahuhu, Papatoetoe and Manurewa are no different. They are probably already in breach of council bylaws but it would do no harm for Parliament to give them a clearer message: public places, by day or night, are not their "patch".
Soliciting in all such places should be a criminal offence. If councils have to specify prohibited areas there is going to be uncertainty, boundary disputes and needless difficulties for those charged with enforcing the law. If localised bans in South Auckland send the trade to other parts of the city there will be an outcry.
Parliament must fix this problem once and for all.