Matt Bonis thought his family had escaped the worst when the earthquakes hit. Their inner city Christchurch home stood up well in the violent shaking that wiped out large swathes of the eastern suburbs and felled much of the nearby central business district.

But as the aftershocks rumbled on, New Zealand's greatest modern natural disaster brought with it an unexpected consequence for father-of-two Bonis and his St Albans neighbours. They suddenly found their normal, quiet suburban street turned into the nation's second biggest city's street sex trade epicentre.

Prostitutes, and their pimps, had for years plied their trade, often called the oldest profession in the world, on a seedy red light stretch of Manchester St, south of Bealey Ave inside the city's old Four Avenues boundary.

The area was largely industrial and had become synonymous with sex workers. Every night after dusk, they could be seen - in all weather - tottering in high heels and short skirts enticing passing motorists to enquire within.


But when the quakes flattened the CBD, and an army-patrolled cordon kept the public away from potentially-dangerous buildings and falling masonry, the sex workers migrated north of Bealey Ave.

And for the last six years, they haven't really moved. For Bonis and many residents of that Manchester St area around the corner of Purchas St, life has proved a living hell.

In their gardens and around their properties, residents have found needles and syringes, human faeces, used condoms, and litter. Vandalism to houses and cars have been reported, as well as thefts. One elderly couple found a prostitute "servicing a client" on their lawn at 3am and when they asked them to leave, had their car vandalised.

Attempts to ask the prostitutes to move on are often met with threats and intimidation, locals say.

Bonis made a police complaint last year after three prostitutes allegedly threatened to burn his house down at 3am with his family inside.

The trade starts about 10pm and often goes through to 6am or 7am.

"They yell price lists to their clients, they yell all sorts to each other. My son who is now 11 knows the price lists, he knows what a transvestite is. It's everything you try and protect your children from," Bonis says.

Since 2011, Bonis and fellow residents have tried to get help from police, both local and central government, and the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, to try to move the sex workers away from the residential zone.


Bonis says he's made more than 300 calls over the last six years to police over noise and other complaints.

"It's got to point where they don't respond at all now," he says.

The residents have been campaigning for a bylaw to ban the sex workers from the residential area. Some have already given up, sold up, and moved on.

A camera was installed last year on the corner of Manchester and Purchas streets in a joint initiative by then Christchurch City councillor Ali Jones, security camera firm ATF Vision and police to deter clients of the sex workers and document antisocial behaviour.

But residents say it's failed to curb the kerb crawlers, and more often than not, there is a sex worker on all four corners.

Former city councillor Aaron Keown erected 'No street workers at all times' signs in the area in 2013, but council staff took them down because they were deemed illegal.

Central Christchurch resident Andrew Huntley launched a petition earlier this year to get the council to ban prostitutes soliciting in residential areas through the introduction of a bylaw.

"Personally I am fed up being offered a blow job for $20 when I'm walking my dog at 6am in the morning," Huntley said.

"I'm fed up having to watch where my dog walks in case of needles. I'm fed up having prostitutes leering at me in my car to see if I'm a potential punter just when I drive to and from my home address, and I am right over them exposing their breasts, backsides and genitalia in broad daylight on some occasions when I have driven by ‐ I have to, I live here.

"I'm fed up having condoms dropped on the verge outside where I live, and am struggling to get the image out of my mind of the prostitute defecating in full view, one morning when I left for work."

The residents were buoyed earlier this year when police indicated they would back Christchurch City Council in enforcing a bylaw to regulate the street-based sex work, especially in residential areas.

However, a letter to residents last week from council chief executive Karleen Edwards and Canterbury Metro Commander Superintendent Lane Todd said a bylaw is no longer supported by police.

Prostitutes on the corner of Manchester Street and Bealey Avenue.
Prostitutes on the corner of Manchester Street and Bealey Avenue.

Under the Local Government Act as it now stands, a bylaw would be difficult to enforce, instant fines could not be issued, and arrests could not be made, the letter states. Attempts to regulate prostitution in Manukau have repeatedly failed.

Last week's move was supported by Prostitute's Collective coordinator Catherine Healy who said it was a "forward-thinking decision".

Healey said it was better to manage sex workers with street lighting and cameras, rather than new rules.

But the sudden u-turn has outraged Bonis, spokesman for his fellow residents.

"Our concerns are not around prostitution. We don't care, it's part of every city. We are simply tired and don't want it happening here anymore," Bonis says.

"The PRA (Prostitution Reform Act 2003) is there and it's an industry like every other. But unlike every other industry, which have responsibilities that go with those rights, this industry has absolutely no responsibilities at all, to the point where police have actually said they are going to cherry-pick bylaws they are going to enforce, and they're not going to do this one.

"Sex workers in our community can go where they like, when they like, and do what they like, and I cannot see in a New Zealand society where that is appropriate as a matter of law. We wouldn't let panelbeaters or tradies be here, why is it appropriate for them to be there? That's the conversation we've tried to have for the last six years and just got nowhere."

City councillor Deon Swiggs is also frustrated by the latest developments, which he described as being a "slap in the face".

"It's disappointing that the police went into this working with the council and the residents saying they would support both of us regulating the activity in this residential area," Swiggs said.

"For [police] to tell us late in the piece that they wouldn't support it has been very frustrating and leaves us with very little option to deliver on the expectation that the residents have. As a council we should be able to deliver on the wish of residents who are facing issues of this nature."

Bonis is now engaged with lawyers and exploring possible legal avenues.

He fears that without regulation, the situation will only worsen for residents like him.

"The next step is either to go to the High Court or leave. They're the two choices that the council and the police have left us," he says.

"To me, the argument is black and white: should a commercial activity be allowed in a residential area at night? And the answer to that is no."