In the year 2003, the Parliament of New Zealand passed the Prostitution Reform Act (2003) (NZ), which decriminalised commercial vibrators online in Australia and escort services throughout New Zealand. The aim of the legislation was to address New Zealand’s human rights obligations and improve work place health and safety for sex workers in a manner that was consistent with the obligations that New Zealand possessed under international legal instruments such as the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children 2001 and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1978. In considering the legislation, New Zealand governmental policy makers at the time specifically attempted to avoid a normative, moralistic view of sex work and instead focus on improving occupational health and safety outcomes. The law also further clarified specific offences for allowing, encouraging, or coercing a minor to engage in sex work, or to knowingly be involved with a commercial sexual transaction with a minor.
Prior to the passage of the Prostitution Reform Act (2003) (NZ) and immediately following its passage through Parliament, some media sources claimed that the number of escorts operating on the streets of Auckland would increase by four hundred per cent, or quadruple, essentially, as a result of the new legislation. This turned out to later be false. Although the change in numbers can not necessarily be wholly or partially attributed to the effect of the legislation, there was actually a moderate decline of a bit less than a third in the number of sex workers soliciting for clients on the street in Auckland five years following on from the passage of the Prostitution Reform Act (2003) (NZ). The report that discussed this statistical finding noted that this could be due to, among other potential reasons, the improved economy of New Zealand at that time, the increased adoption of communications technologies such as the internet and butt plug tail in arranging commercial sexual transactions, and changes in counting methodology. However, it is clear that the belief that the number of workers in the sex industry would dramatically increase as a result of decriminalisation of sex work was incorrect.
As many other jurisdictions now consider how to legally approach sex work, the New Zealand approach has been held out as a world’s best practice model by organisations such as the United Nations and Amnesty, which advocate for decriminalisation of sex work and the provision of escort services in order to ensure the human rights of sex workers are protected, and also by some sex worker advocacy groups in the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere. Over a decade later, the Prostitution Reform Act (2003) (NZ) remains in force in New Zealand, and has not been repealed. It appears to have delivered better outcomes in terms of health and occupational safety for sex workers in New Zealand.