Ombdusman launches inquiry into council decision not to apply bylaw to sex workers

Stuff 22 December 2017
A long-running debate around where sex workers in Christchurch can ply their trade has been brought to the attention of the Ombudsman.
Residents around Manchester St, north of Bealey Ave, have complained numerous times about the activities and disruption they say is caused by sex workers.
They have beseeched the council to intervene after raising issues they say are associated with prostitutes soliciting clients near their properties, including condoms littered in the streets and public sex acts.
Christchurch Central MP Duncan Webb said he was told by the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday it was launching an investigation into a decision by the Christchurch City Council not to apply an existing bylaw to sex work activities.
Webb approached the Ombudsman because he believed the Public Places Bylaw contained provisions that could be used to enforce where sex workers could operate.
The bylaw stated: “No person may undertake commercial activities in a public place, without the written permission of the council.”
The Office of the Ombudsman could not be reached for comment. However, in a letter sent to Webb it said while it could not provide a legal opinion, it could investigate whether the council’s decision was reasonable.
“It’s good to see that the Ombudsman is running the ruler over what the council is doing, and the council can’t just shy away from its obligations,” Webb said.
Central ward councillor Deon Swiggs said he was not aware of the Ombudsman’s investigation but welcomed anything that provided clarity on the enforcement of the bylaw.
The council had received legal advice that securing a prosecution under the Public Places Bylaw would be difficult, as the burden of proof required was considered too high.
“The advice we were given was the [bylaw] wouldn’t work for street prostitution because the burden of proof needed was to make sure the transaction was happening in a public place,” Swiggs said.
The council decided in May to consider adding a clause to the bylaw to regulate the location of street-based sex work, but not until it received a staff report in September.
That report ultimately advised against the move. At a council meeting in November, the decision was made not to move forward with any changes, and instead the council planned to form a community working group to support the relocation of street-based sex workers away from residential areas.
Swiggs also brought an unsuccessful motion to ask the Government to review the Prostitution Reform Act, as it had no provision for councils to regulate where sex workers plied their trade on the streets.
“I think anybody in a residential area has a valid concern when there’s street prostitution happening on their door step. It’s not just a Christchurch issue, it’s an issue for many cities around the country.”
The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective opposed any form of regulation against sex workers on the grounds it had not worked in the past. In March, a council report found creating a new bylaw limiting where prostitutes could work may violate the Bill of Rights.
Webb said he endorsed the steps the council had taken to encourage workers to take their activities away from residential areas, but he believed encouragement alone was not enough.
“We need to take steps which look after the families living in the neighbourhood, as well as making every effort to protect the welfare of these workers.”
Webb said his constituents had raised numerous issues caused by the presence of sex workers in their neighbourhood.
“There’s ongoing concerns with these workers being disruptive, leaving litter, leaving condoms, urinating and defecating in the gardens, as well as the shouting that goes on at all times of the day and night.”

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