Advocates call for sex work convictions to be expunged: Data reveals more than a thousand affected

Advocates are calling for change as decades-old prostitution convictions continue to impact the lives of current and former sex workers.

Many Kiwis are forced to disclose historic charges and convictions for sex work when they apply for jobs, travel and study – something advocates say can cause discrimination.

Data released to the Herald under the Official Information Act shows over a thousand people were convicted for the charge of Prostitution Soliciting from 1980 until sex work was decriminalised in 2003.

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) Auckland regional co-ordinator Annah Pickering said some people have been turned away from certain studies and jobs due to their past convictions.

On top of soliciting convictions, 58 women and 24 men were convicted for other breaches under the Massage Parlours Act from 1980 to 2003.

One woman, who the Herald has agreed not to name, was prevented from going to Canada a few years ago because of a historic charge.

“Twenty-eight years later I’m at a border filling in an on the spot visa application and I came across this question where I had to respond whether I have been charged [with an offence].”

When she revealed her historic sex work charge the woman said she had to fly back to New Zealand and send through information from the Ministry of Justice and police.

“I didn’t have a criminal record. So that was confirmed then I had to send that information to Canada.”

But by then it was too late, and she was unable to attend the research event she was travelling to.

The woman felt humiliated and angry.

She wanted to remain anonymous because she said if she declared she’d not been allowed into one country, other countries might “start to look” at her as well.

“It can have a huge effect on peoples lives, I think it’s very unclear with the clean slate legislation, given that sex work is decriminalised in New Zealand, do sex workers have to declare historic charges.”

What she wants to see is something like what was created for men who had historical homosexual convictions, which since a 2018 scheme, could apply to be treated as if they had never been convicted.

Pickering said she too would like to see historic sex work convictions expunged.

She said workers she spoke to said she was unable to study at a certain institution because she had disclosed certain convictions.

“Whether it’s applying for jobs or at the border, these things can create anxiety for people if they’ve had historical offences.”

She said disclosing historical convictions can create stigma and discrimination, especially when it’s something that happened over 20 years ago.

Those applying for jobs in Industries like social work, teaching and counselling often have to share their past convictions, she said.

“You’ve got to be really bold and take that stuff forward, whether it’s the social work registration board or something like that, because you’re hoping that people don’t discriminate against you because of your past.”

Even today she said sex workers are discriminated against for their occupation and the nature of the work.

In a statement, Ministry of Justice deputy secretary police Rajesh Chhana said the Ministry was not currently engaged in any work on wiping historic sex work convictions.

“Any move to expunge any particular type of historic convictions would require special legislation to be proposed and enacted.”

However, the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 allows individuals with less serious convictions, and who have been conviction-free for a long period of time, to put their past behind them.

This requires applicants to have had no convictions within the last seven years, to have never been sentenced to a custodial sentence and to have never been ordered by a court during a criminal case to be detained in a hospital, among other things.

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