New Zeland Prostitution Reform Act 2003

New Zeland Prostitution Reform Act 2003

The Prostitution Reform Act was passed on 25 June 2003. The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective pushed to have these new laws, and designed the new laws over time with input from very many sex workers. The original Bill was changed as it went through a three year Parliamentary debate. As a result, we didn’t get all that we wanted. The Act is designed to:

(a) safeguard the human rights of sex workers and protect them from exploitation;

(b) promote the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers:
(c) be conducive to public health:
(d) prohibit the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age; and
(e) implements certain other related reforms.

The Act is available online at the New Zealand Legislation: Acts site. In pull down menu, scroll down to “P”, open that and scroll down to Prostitution Reform Act 2003.

The old laws meant that you could be fined or imprisoned if you:

  • solicited for the purposes of prostitution (up to $200 fine);
  • kept a brothel (up to 5 years in prison);
  • lived on the earnings of prostitution (up to 5 years in prison);
  • procured anyone for the purposes of prostitution (up to 7 years in prison).

These laws were taken away when the Prostitution Reform Act came into effect in 2003. The main points about the Prostitution Reform Act are:

  • You have the right to refuse to have sex with a client for any reason, or for no reason. No one- including managers, receptionists, minders, clients, other workers, etc., can force you to have sex with a client, even if he has paid. Managers cannot fine you for refusing a client- it is against the law for them to do so.
  • You cannot be coerced (“induced or compelled”) into having sex by having money taken off you, etc., (i.e., fined, etc.), or threatened in any way. Section 16 of the Prostitution Reform Act states any person who does so “commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years”.
  • You do not have to register with the police, or even contact the police, if you wish to be a sex worker in New Zealand. Under the old laws, Massage parlours were required to keep a register of names, with identifying details, which were to be given to the police for inspection “upon request”. In some areas, people working privately had to register with the police before they could advertise in their local newspaper. This is no longer the case.
  • Operators, clients and sex workers must take all reasonable steps to “ensure a prophylactic sheath (condom) or other appropriate barrier is used if those services involve vaginal, anal, or oral penetration or another activity with a similar or greater risk of acquiring or transmitting sexually transmissible infections”. Failure to do so can mean a hefty fine. This means that everyone should use a condom and/or dental dam for vaginal, oral and anal sex.
  • A brothel is a place that is habitually used by just one sex worker or more for commercial sex activities with clients. All brothels must display health promotion messages. There are some posters that have been published by the Ministry of Health that spell out the requirements for safer sex practices. These are available from NZPC and are free.
  • Operators are required to have “Operators Certificates”. An operator is any person who has any form of control over a sex worker. This includes owners, directors of companies, managers, and may include receptionists. Check section 5 of the Prostitution Reform Act if you are unsure if this affects you, or ring NZPC. There is a form you send to the Registrar at the Auckland District Court. The forms are available from the Ministry of Justice website. There is also further information about applying for the certificate here and here. The cost of applying is currently $250.00 including GST. There are some people who may not be able to get an Operators Certificate if they have previous convictions for violence, sexual offences, or certain drug related offences. However, people can appeal against this on several grounds. It is worth checking this out if you have been refused an Operators Certificate.
  • Sex workers can work with any convictions.
  • Up to four sex workers can work together and do not need an Operators Certificate, so long as no one is in charge of anyone else, or working as a boss. If there are more than four sex workers working together, as equals, one will have to apply for an Operators Certificate.
  • Councils have the right to make bylaws affecting the signage and location of brothels, but cannot ban brothels outright. Some councils have zoned brothels to certain areas. Some councils also have home based-occupation rules affecting anyone who works from home. It is important to be aware of any bylaw that may affect you if you are thinking about establishing a brothel or working from home or apartments in certain areas.
  • A sex worker is “at work” for the purposes of OSH when they are providing sexual services. There are Occupational Safety and Health guidelines have been developed by OSH in consultation with NZPC, sex workers and brothel operators. These guidelines are available from the OSH website.
  • If you are a sex worker who wishes to leave sex work, you can go onto a benefit without any extra stand down being imposed for voluntary unemployment.
  • You can be a sex worker in New Zealand provided you are a New Zealand citizen.
  • If you are thinking of coming to New Zealand to work as a sex worker; or to own, open, or invest in, a brothel or other business of prostitution, your visa can be refused. If you hold a temporary visa, or if your permanent residency carries a special condition, you can be deported if you own a brothel or other business of prostitution, or if you are working in the sex industry.
  • If you are a brothel operator, or a client, you can be fined or imprisoned if you hire a sex worker who is under 18. It is also illegal to receive money from a sex worker under the age of 18. It is not illegal to be a sex worker if you are younger than 18. However, if you hire a sex worker under 18 to work in your brothel, or if you are a client who hires a sex worker under 18 to provide you with sexual services, you are breaking the law.
  • Many newspapers require photo ID before allowing adverts for sex workers in the adult entertainment columns. This is to ensure that they do not “cause, assist, facilitate, or encourage a person under 18 years of age to provide commercial sexual services to any person”, which also carries a prison sentence.
  • Some brothel operators have already been found guilty of hiring people under the age of 18 to work as sex workers. In one case, it appears the brothel operator did not check ID to ensure the person was over 18, but as the law allows no defence to the charge, they were found guilty. Therefore, in order to protect yourself from being prosecuted, NZPC recommends that all brothel operators view photo ID of people they are hiring to ensure they are over 18.

(Reference from:


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