Her Majesty The Queen’s Bewildering Legitimisation of the Sex Trade Harms Women and Girls

It was a major disappointment and shock for SPACE International, an international sex trade survivor movement, that Her Majesty The Queen bestowed an Order of Merit on a founding member of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), a group which lobbied that country to decriminalise all aspects of prostitution in 2003.

In endorsing the recommendation by honouring a person who facilitated the decriminalisation of not only those being sold, but also pimps, brothel-owners and buyers of sexual access, Her Majesty is unknowingly offering legitimisation to the incredibly profitable and extremely exploitative commercial sex trade, which has caused untold harm to millions of mainly women and girls around the world – many whom have died, or have been left with lifelong consequences as a result of it.

We believe that ideologues who support the sex-trade have abused the honours system to further legitimise the exploitation of women entrapped in prostitution and as such the systems of scrutiny that raise names within the honours system need to urgently be reviewed. We respectfully request that this Order of Merit is rescinded immediately as the unintended consequences of this award sends an extremely dangerous message that the exploitation of people in prostitution is acceptable – and even worthy of being commended.

Every member of SPACE International has lived through the reality of prostitution. Our experience is from different corners of the globe – including in the United Kingdom and New Zealand – but there are always common factors such as gender inequality, poverty and other structural inequalities why the sex trade swallowed us up in the first place, and why it can similarly be so difficult to exit from it.

Women who lived prostitution in New Zealand say that after full decriminalisation they “went from fearing the police to fearing the pimps”. On top of this, since it is now viewed as work in that country those who have found themselves stuck in prostitution are given no support when trying to exit, while the men who buy sexual access to their bodies are legitimised to do whatever they please.

The New Zealand approach has completely failed. It conceals the inherent violence within the sex trade and has not reduced the scale of prostitution – including of minors. Former Prime Minister John Key backed this assertion up in 2012 when he publicly stated that the 2003 law reform hadn’t worked.

The only policy approach to prostitution which Her Majesty should consider standing behind is the one which SPACE International and other sex trade survivors support. Starting in Sweden in 1999 the Abolitionist (Nordic) Model has gained significant traction around the world and versions of it have been adopted by Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France and the Republic of Ireland.

Supported by feminist activists around the world this approach is a set of laws and policies which decriminalises and mandates exiting services and support to people in prostitution, while criminalising pimps, brothel owners and those who buy sexual access to the bodies of women and girls.

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