The Human Rights Review Tribunal has recently awarded a sex-worker the sum of $25,000, after she was subject to sexual harassment by a brothel operator. The brothel in Wellington, New Zealand was managed by Aaron Montgomery who told the sex worker that weekends were his ‘play time‘ with the women at the brothel, and that he could do what he liked with them, saying ‘most girls will do anything for me anyway.‘ The woman also reported him as saying that he would ‘take her out of his comfort zone’, which she worried implied he would hurt her, or send someone else to hurt her.
In the ruling which saw Montgomery’s actions as a breach of the Human Rights Act, ordered to undergo training with the Human Rights Commission in addition to the $25,000 awarded to the plaintiff for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings. You could almost be mistaken for thinking that this result means sex workers can expect to have the same human rights to safety in the workplace, free from discrimination and harassment as any other workers, but unfortunately the stigmatization of sex work means it is still incredibly difficult for people to make these kinds of complaints; a culture of secrecy and shame means sex workers are still often vulnerable to being ‘outed’ and subsequently degraded. However, hopefully the landmark nature of the case will influence other incidents in the future, and encourage other sex workers who may be suffering to come forward.
The fact that this occurred in New Zealand, where prostitution and brothel keeping are legal, is significant. It perhaps goes to show that in legalizing sex work, the criminal aspect of it is taken away and it can begin to be viewed less according to misplaced judgments of morality. As the common sex workers’ rights activist slogan goes, ‘Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs.’