Sex and the Suburbs
Canterbury police have been caught in the middle of a clash between prostitutes displaced by the Christchurch earthquakes and residents of the suburbs they migrated to.
Normally left in peace to ply their trade at the southern, city end of Christchurch’s Manchester St, after the February earthquake many sex workers moved to the other end of the street – an area zoned as residential.
Although prostitutes are entitled to work the streets, complaints started coming in from residents, ranging from problems with late-night noise to finding used condoms and blood-filled syringes in a garden.
Recently, most of the city cordons have lifted and most prostitutes have returned to the southern end of Manchester St, but a handful have stayed working in the residential area.
Senior Sergeant Gordon Spite said officers had been working closely with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) and the Christchurch City Council to address the issue.
On one hand, Police were sympathetic to residents worried about offensive behaviour; on the other, they wanted to ensure the safety of the prostitutes.
To that end, Mr Spike said, working with the street workers, not against them had proved the most effective strategy.
Gentle persuasion had been the best method of moving them back to the city end of the street.
NZPC regional co-ordinator Anna Reed said: “Police have been absolutely brilliant and we are always happy to work with them on matters that affect street workers.
We completely support the Police in trying to move them on, and as yet this hasn’t been completed, but we are hopeful it will happen soon.”
Mr Spite signalled that a tougher stance would be used if the remaining prostitutes stayed too long.
He stressed that Police were not generally in the business of moving prostitutes on, rather, it was the behaviour that sometimes occurred around prostitution that concerned them.
He also said that any continuing problems arising from prostitution might determine whether or not the Christchurch City Council would lend support to a bill currently before the Local Government and Environment select committee.
If approved, the Auckland Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill would allow councils to make bylaws that specify areas where street prostitution may not occur. Anyone found soliciting or receiving commercial sexual services in no-go zones would face a fine of $2000.
Mr Spite said Police were in a tough situation; their job was to balance residents’ concerns with the safety and wellbeing of sex workers.
“We sympathise with residents and understand where they are coming from, as we know it’s not a nice situation when you are about to send your child to school and there is a hooker on your street.”
One resident, who did not wish to be named, recalled an incident late last year where she could hear a prostitute out on the street yelling obscenities at six o’clock at night.
She also found used condoms and blood-filled syringes in her garden. “I have kids and it’s a pretty sad story when you can’t let them outside to play on the trampoline because you are afraid of what they may see.”
Since then, the resident said, many prostitutes had left the area, however a few continued to work the streets.
“The times you see them out seem to be earlier and earlier because I think that since daylight saving finished they feel more comfortable starting work early.”
The resident said she realised the earthquakes had been hard on everyone and residents had tried to be patient, with some even making the prostitutes hot drinks or letting them use their toilets.
However, the neighbourhood had grown tired of the situation and had turned to the Police and the city council for help.
“For a time there it seemed like we were getting nowhere, but I am happy to say the situation seems to have got better and we are glad most of them have gone as we just want our area back to normal.”
To encourage the remaining prostitutes back to the southern end of Manchester St, Police collaborated with a working group that included the council and the NZPC.
“We had a meeting earlier on in the year where we discussed some measures we thought would help, including installing additional lighting and CCTV cameras, toilet facilities and rubbish bins near the south side of Manchester St,” Mr Spite said.
“Basically, we think it is better the devil we know, because we don’t want to push these guys underground, as this would cause more trouble than it is worth.”
Mr Spite said “sustainable solutions” were the right strategy in this situation, not a more hard-line approach.