Prostitution was made legal in New Zealand 14 years ago, a move which some hoped, or feared, would remove the stigma from those who buy or sell sex. That has not happened, to the disappointment of a woman who features in our pages today.

American Antonia Murphy is opening what she calls an "ethical brothel", by which she means it will be drug free, safe, and employ only women who enjoy the work and are under no pressure, financial or any other kind, to do it.

Nothing on or around the establishment will advertise its purpose and it will even provide free childcare on the site.

This is probably as close as the industry can come to the hopes of those who promoted or voted for the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003. They argued that legalisation would make the industry safer, especially for providers of sex who could take complaints of abuse to the police without fear they could be charged with a criminal offence themselves.


But also safer for the community because safe sex practices could more easily be promoted to an industry that would otherwise continue to operate outside the law.

To that extent the legislation is said to have made a difference but it has not removed the stigma. Not many prostitutes want their occupation generally known. Few if any parents would want their daughter or son to grow up to be a sex worker. Even "Madam Murphy", never a prostitute herself, does not want the address of her brothel publicised.

She sees no reason why providing sexual services should be shameful. It is a service for men, predominantly, who must be lacking something in their lives, she believes. Possibly they are too "busy" to cultivate a normal relationship. Whatever their reason, not many men who go to prostitutes want the fact widely known. The industry's stigma operates both ways.

Many would say that is a good outcome. Selling sex, or buying it, need not be illegal for society to register its contempt for the commodification of the human body.

It may be co-incidental that, as our story reveals, the number of licensed brothels in New Zealand has dropped from 326 in 2003 to just 66 today. The proliferation of internet connections over the same period may have undermined or changed the sex industry as it has many others, but legalisation has not done the harm its opponents feared. It has simply made a sad industry safer.