Annah Pickering, the Regional Co-ordinator for the Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Workers Collective (NZPC), tells us about recent international trips to share information and models on how to best protect sex workers the world over.

Can you please explain to our readers a bit about the work that the NZPC does?

NZPC is a peer-based organisation and contracts to Te Whatu Ora, Health NZ. We are also concerned with the rights, safety, health and wellbeing of all sex workers. We provide a range of services related to sexual and reproductive health and operate community-based programmes, including the provision of information to people who need support in sex work.


We also provide policy advice and are currently supporting the government by collaborating on the updating of Health and Safety in the Workplace guidelines. If something impacts a sex worker and causes a problem, we will support them. If anyone is thinking about becoming a sex worker, we are there to provide excellent information so they can be well-informed about sex work.

Recently, you and Dame Catherine Healy (National Coordinator of NZPC) travelled to the UK to work with sex worker advocacy groups there. What does New Zealand have to offer the UK in this space?

Aotearoa New Zealand was the first country to decriminalise most sex work-related activities. We are often asked to provide information to other countries about decriminalisation – The NZ Model – which we had the opportunity to present.

It is always hard when we hear about criminalisation in other countries like the UK and Ireland. It makes me feel sad, reflecting on the gains we have made in Aotearoa New Zealand, and reminds me of what we experienced before the laws changing.

We met with the English Collective of Prostitutes to share our experiences, including the gains of decriminalisation. It reminds us to never give up, never give in, keep on the fight.

Beyond England, you have also been to several other countries with the NZPC. Tell us a bit about that work.

As part of my role with NZPC, Ive been fortunate to be sponsored by international donors to attend conferences in India, Ghana, Bangladesh, Thailand and Switzerland to look at HIV and the legislative issues that impact sex workers. The sex worker movements in these countries are impressive. I always learn from these global movements and come away in awe and feeling inspired.

Annah Pickering.

So how well does New Zealand fair in terms of our rights for sex workers?

Aotearoa New Zealand is certainly up there with its progressive response to sex workers. Belgium has recently decriminalised sex work but is sorting out the implementation of this approach. We have 21 years of experience. Australia has decriminalisation in New South Wales and Victoria. The Northern Territory has decriminalised too, with anti-discrimination legislation relating to sex workers. Theres a long way to go to ensure sex workers are well supported. Globally, sex workers are being criminalised or working under models that criminalise their clients and others, making conditions hard for sex workers to work safely. Sweden, for example, has a repressive approach to sex workers. New Zealand, on the other hand, has an integrative approach, which means sex workers can be included in protective legislation such as Health and Safety in the Workplace.

What challenges do sex workers still face in New Zealand?

There is unfinished business. Sex workers can still be prosecuted for not using condoms, which has only happened once but nevertheless can happen. This is abhorrent to me – NZPC strongly disagrees with this.

It is against the law for people who are migrants to be sex workers on temporary visas. Migrant sex workers can potentially face deportation. This affects people who may have the right to work here. Some students, for example, prefer to work as sex workers but can be sent home to their countries if they are caught doing it. NZ is an expensive country, and sex work is one way to make a dent in these expenses.

Stigma and discrimination exist against sex workers. NZPC believes that there needs to be anti-discrimination protection for sex workers. Wed like this to be included in Human Rights legislation. At the extreme end, sex workers have been targeted and murdered because they are sex workers.

Would you say that LGBTQIA+ people are overrepresented in the sex worker community? If so, do you have a theory as to why?

The bulk of clients who pay for sex are heterosexual men. The bulk of sexual encounters are built around heterosexual identities. Nevertheless, there are significant numbers of people who are sex workers who would not identify as heterosexual.

Our queer communities are part of the sex industry and are strongly represented.

It is different for everyone. There is a lot of transphobia, homophobia and discrimination out there in the job market.

It can be difficult for some people who seek alternative work to sex work to find work due to this discrimination.

However, I know people who are sex workers who are reluctantly having to consider other work because sex work isnt able to fund all their living costs.

Its different for everyone. It may be entirely suitable for some as work because it provides flexibility with working hours – compared to a 9-to-5 job, Monday to Friday. Of course, some sex workers work 9-to-5, Monday to Friday too.

What changes have you seen in the industry since decriminalisation in 2003?

One of the huge and most important outcomes has been the removal of the police from our sex work lives as a negative force.

Being named and shamed in court for prostitution, so-called, was horrible and caused harm to so many. Relationships with the police are evolving, and its a relief to know that the bad old days of being picked up for soliciting or brothel keeping are well behind us. Nevertheless, there are migrant sex workers who are still being affected by laws that cause major disruption to their lives.

Generally, this legislative environment has given sex workers more choice and the ability to manage their own sex work in ways that keep them safe. It means sex workers can work for managers at venues or work for themselves or buddy up with others.  

What can we do as a community to support rainbow sex workers?

It is important to be mindful of stigma and discrimination – no jokes, thanks, about sex workers. Be respectful about our job – Sex Work Is Work!

For more information about the work of the NZPC, visit