Police drop support for Christchurch sex worker bylaw

6:05 pm on 26 September 2017

Christchurch residents who fought hard to curb the sex trade in their neighbourhood are outraged police have given up enforcing proposed regulations.

 A sex worker and her client.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Some residents north of the central business district had been pushing for tighter regulations for years, saying they were being abused by sex workers and their properties were being vandalised.

Many sex workers were forced out of a known red light district in Manchester Street by the Canterbury earthquakes and the city council has been accused of dragging its heels.

The police said this year that they would enforce a proposed council bylaw.

However, after extensive debate about whether the council should introduce a new bylaw that would limit the movement of sex workers in residential areas they backed down on that.

Photo of  a woman's long winter boots as she sits on a wall

A street worker in Manchester Street in Christchurch. Photo: ( RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)

A letter sent on Monday, signed by the police and the Christchurch City Council, said enforcing a new bylaw presented "significant difficulties" under current legislation.

It said a new bylaw could be made under section 145 of the Local Government Act, but it would have limited enforcement options.

"There is no ability to issue instant fines, there is no power of arrest," the letter read.

A St Albans resident, Matt Bonis, has been fighting for a crackdown on sex workers in his neighbourhood for years. Mr Bonis said his family had been shouted at by sex workers, his property vandalised, and had needles and other litter strewn across his driveway.

He said the letter was the final straw.

"We're now being told that this is the new normal and you just have to live with it," he said. "We're just tired and frustrated to the point where my wife and I last night were looking at houses elsewhere, or going to High Court."

The central city was now open for business again, but Mr Bonis said almost seven years after the earthquake not all of the sex workers had left the suburbs.

The Oldest Profession, NZPC outreach worker Channel

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

'The numbers have reduced dramatically'

Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator Catherine Healy welcomed the letter and said it showed a non-regulatory approach was the answer.

"It's important to see that the police didn't want to return to the days when the police were arresting sex workers," she said.

Ms Healy said the collective was talking with sex workers to explain residents' concerns, and said most had moved back into the central business district.

"The numbers have reduced dramatically, but we'll keep up the pressure to ensure the sex workers aren't causing disharmony in the neighbourhood," she said.

City councillor Deon Swiggs said he was not happy with the police's position.

"It's a bit of a disappointment that the police did do a 180-degree turn on this issue," he said. "We've got to respond to our residents and actually help them."

RNZ approached the city council and police for a response, but both declined to be interviewed today.

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