Calls to amend the Prostitution Bylaw which governs sex work in Rotorua have been made by the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective.
Rotorua Lakes Council sought public feedback in November on the bylaw and received three submissions, two of them heard at a Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee hearing yesterday. New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective law and policy advisor Bridie Sweetman said the first concern with the bylaw was the narrow CBD area in which sex workers could operate from.
"This essentially excludes the scope for home-based sex work and other small owner-operated businesses."
Sweetman said possible impacts from home-based sex work such as traffic and noise could be controlled by existing regulations such as Home-based Occupation Rules without resorting to a "targeting, stigmatising and harmful bylaw".
A non-bylaw approach exists in Auckland and Wellington, and Sweetman said councillors from those cities confirmed the approach was working well.
She said sex workers who could not work in the larger brothels because of their gender or sexual orientation were forced to work illegally outside of the prescribed zone causing limited autonomy over their work and lives.
"This creates potential for exploitation and essentially re-criminalises an activity which was decriminalised by Parliament in 2003 by the Prostitution Reform Act."
Sweetman said if the bylaw was taken to the High Court it would likely be quashed based on a similar case of a prostitution bylaw in Christchurch.
"In summary this bylaw is unnecessary. Sex work is already regulated by other regulations such as the District Plan, Home-Based Occupations Rules and legislation.
"If the council are not inclined to [appeal] then we suggest that considerable amendments are made so that the bylaw is consistent with legislative law and with the rights, safety, health and wellbeing of sex workers."
Clinical psychologist Nicole Winters raised a concern in her submission the current bylaw meant people with disabilities could not be offered services in Rotorua as ground floor sex work was illegal.
The submission was met with praise from various councillors and Mayor Steve Chadwick.
Councillor Karen Hunt noted that no complaints, bar one noise complaint, and the lack of submissions from the community was a great strength and indicator that legalisation would not cause problems.
"This is a mark of a community finally growing up."
Elected members will deliberate and make recommendations after considering the submissions at the next meeting on March 14 which will be presented to the full council for a final decision.