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The sex trade is one of New Zealand's oldest and most lucrative industries, dating back to the days when whalers and traders swapped muskets for sex. In the last 11 years, law reform has made prostitution a perfectly legitimate profession. But as far as the government is concerned, the sex industry does not exist, with zero data on its contribution to tourism or the broader economy. For context, that is roughly the same GDP contribution as the entire clothing, footwear and textiles sector.
According to the results of last year's Census, there are 60, presumably exhausted, sex workers servicing the entire country. As the Justice Ministry described it, calculating the true number is "about as difficult as counting glow-worms in a cave". Estimates vary from as few as 2, to over 15,, and everything in between.
Even the normally eagle-eyed taxman has no idea, lumping sex work into hospitality or special services. You might as well take a tape measure to classified ads in the paper, says Catherine Healy, national co-ordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective.
A review committee five years on from the law change suggested the reform had little impact on the number of people working. While the numbers fluctuate slightly from year to year, Healy says "our feeling is that it's pretty much the same". It is just as difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to average incomes. The common complaint from every sex worker is that they're not making enough money.
Self-employed Wellington sex worker Eva, not her real name, says the lull in business is a hot topic amongst her colleagues. Eva bumped into two Kiwi girls who had made the same move, but even the Sydneysiders were complaining of a lack of custom. As it turns out, the main grumbles these days are not exploitation, violence or trafficking of which there has never been a substantiated case here. Instead, they're mostly mundane employment issues. Those are the same problems faced by a lot of industries," says Healy.