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UBC Theses and Dissertations

For better or worse? : decriminalisation, work conditions, and indoor sex work in Auckland, New Zealand/Aotearoa Zangger, Catherine


Internationally, sex workers and other people who participate in the sex industry remain subjected to social, economic, and political inequalities on a daily basis. While decriminalisation has been championed by sex workers and advocates in Canada and elsewhere, New Zealand remains the only country to have implemented this model, which is arguably the most conducive to improving the work conditions for sex workers. More than a decade post-decriminalisation, we have scant knowledge on what criteria sex workers use to choose what sectors to work from and the labour conditions existing in those locations. In this case study, I built upon anti-colonial and feminist literature by conducting in-depth interviews with 30 indoor sex workers and 10 managers to discover the advantages and pitfalls to working in the sex industry in Auckland. Placing sex workers’ voices centre stage, I explore what motivates their involvement in sex work and the meanings they attach to their work. Second, I describe the work conditions experienced within the managed sector of the sex industry, with a focus on the relations between sex workers and managers. Lastly, I further the understanding of working conditions experienced in the private sector, and private workers’ ability to create their ideal work environment within a decriminalised context, specifically worker-run cooperatives. I found that sex workers seek greater autonomy over their work processes but that constraining dynamics prevent them from doing so. These dynamics include the whore stigma, discrimination outside of the sex work community, and the presence of restrictive by-laws. Overall, my participants described a disjuncture between the rights granted by the 2003 change in law and their lived experiences that jeopardized their occupational well-being. I provide social and policy recommendations for areas related to stigma and working environments.

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