Sexual harassment is all too common, and yes, it also happens in Aotearoa New Zealand too. And just as in the rest of the world, women are by far more likely to be harassed than men. Regardless of gender, it requires a lot of courage for a victim to seek redress for any form of harassment, but particularly when it is of a sexual nature.
In this country it is slightly easier than in many other jurisdictions to seek redress as the Human rights Commission will often represent a plaintive in court through the office of the Director for Human Rights Proceedings.
In a recent case, the Director for Human Rights Proceedings represented a woman in a sexual harassment hearing before the Human Rights Review Tribunal where the woman was awarded a six-figure sum for sexual harassment that occurred in the course of her employment. Unfortunately, most of the details of the case have been hidden behind a confidentiality agreement so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the full details.
What makes this case unusual is that the value of the payout is large by New Zealand standards, but it does show an increasing intolerance by the courts towards sexual harassment. Perhaps more unique is the nature of the woman’s employment, and although similar cases have been successful in this country, her job would preclude such a case being brought before the courts at all in most other jurisdictions.
According to an article in the New Zealand Herald:
A sex worker awarded a six-figure payout after being sexually harassed at work is feeling vindicated, say those who lobbied for her.
Despite much of the case being subject to a confidentiality agreement, the Office of Human Rights Proceedings has revealed a substantial settlement has been reached between a business owner and a sex worker.
The money is to compensate the woman for emotional harm and lost earnings.
Human rights proceedings director Michael Timmins said the settlement was “substantial” and hoped to serve as a benchmark for future cases.New Zealand Herald, 14 December 2020
The finding of the tribunal are not yet available online but seem to be consistent with the finding of DML v Montgomery in March 2012 where DML was awarded $25,000. There the key finding was that Sex workers are protected by section 62 of the Human Rights Act 1993 (sexual harassment).
Sex workers work in an environment where there will be some sexual language/behaviour. However, there is a difference between sexual language/behaviour with a legitimate work purpose, and sexual language/behaviour that is unwelcome or offensive to the individual.
Some key findings in that case were:
 But context is everything. Even in a brothel language with a sexual dimension can be used inappropriately in suggestive, oppressive, or abusive circumstances.
 In addition to establishing that the spoken language complained of was of a sexual nature, the plaintiff must also show that the language was either unwelcome or offensive to her. Whereas the test for the first element is objective, the test for the second is subjective. That is, it is the complainant’s perception that is relevant. It is immaterial whether the person complained about (or any other person) considered the language to be unwelcome or offensive. See Proceedings Commissioner v Woodward  NZCRT 8 at 6 (CRT, 22 May 1998) and EN v KIC [Sexual harassment] at . There is no “reasonable person” test. The harasser must take the consequences of the victim’s sensibilities. See Lenart v Massey University at 267.
 It follows that it is not possible to ask whether a “reasonable sex worker” would find the behaviour unwelcome or offensive. If the Tribunal accepts the plaintiff’s evidence that she did indeed find Mr Montgomery’s language unwelcome or offensive, that is sufficient. If in a brothel language or behaviour of a sexual nature could never be considered unwelcome or offensive sex workers would be denied the protection of the Human Rights Act.
… Sex workers are as much entitled to protection from sexual harassment as those working in other occupations. The fact that a person is a sex worker is not a licence for sexual harassment, especially by the manager or employer at the brothel. Sex workers have the same human rights as other workers. The special vulnerability of sex workers to exploitation and abuse was specifically recognised by the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 which not only decriminalised prostitution but also had the purpose of creating a framework to safeguard the human rights of sex workers and to promote their welfare and occupational health and safety:
The purpose of this Act is to decriminalise prostitution (while not endorsing or morally
sanctioning prostitution or its use) and to create a framework that—
(a) safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation:
(b) promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers:
(c) is conducive to public health:
(d) prohibits the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age:
(e) implements certain other related reforms.
Irrespective of my own personal views on prostitution, it is cases such as these that persuade me that out of all options for dealing with it, I am pleased that what has become known as the New Zealand model was adopted here in 2003. Do any of my readers have an opinion on this?
15 Dec, 2020 at 11:59 am
Sex work is going to go on, so I hope the workers will be safe. Legalisation achieves that.
15 Dec, 2020 at 6:56 pm
Sex work will go on. To criminalize it makes it only dangerous for the women particularly.
15 Dec, 2020 at 7:14 pm
I agree. At least if it’s decriminalised it’s much easier for sex workers to leave. There’s no evidence that decriminalisation increases prostitution and in fact the parliamentary committee that did a follow up study 5 years after decriminalisation show that the number of sex workers had declined.
Besides, should the state be involved in determining morals?
17 Dec, 2020 at 2:39 am
Should the state be involved in determination of morals? No. Only in ensuring agreed norms are followed
17 Dec, 2020 at 8:46 am
But even then only if said moral causes harm to others
17 Dec, 2020 at 9:39 pm
I agree totally
16 Dec, 2020 at 12:18 am
In Australia a lot of the sex workers are students. As they were stuck over here, lost any part time job they had due to the virus and the government did not give them any financial assistance who can blame them. It is not imoral it is a service that I believe may assist in reducing attacks on women.
17 Dec, 2020 at 9:03 am
Only nationals and permanent residents can do sex work. This is to prevent trafficking. There’s no evidence that students have gone into the sex bisiness. Besides, there a huge shortage of seasonal agriculture workers due to the closed borders and there’s danger of crops rotting due to the lack of workers. Those stranded here on non-work visas have been given permission to work, and some emergency grants have been made available.
17 Dec, 2020 at 10:50 pm
Our seasonal workers are usually back packers or students, however as not many are here local Australians have applied for jobs but have been rejected. Evidently foreigners are easy to screw over with wages and accomodation costs whereas Aussie workers are more inclined to smell a rat.
And just like you say there is a danger of crops rotting.
There is supposed to be an investigation into this issue and I hope it is sorted out sometime soon because I am going to do the grey nomad thing around Australia and would like to do some fruit picking at some time to earn some extra cash.
18 Dec, 2020 at 3:49 pm
I notice that Australia has launched a marketing campaign here to entice NZ residents to undertake seasonal work in Australia…
2 Jan, 2021 at 10:56 pm
Reblogged this on Autism Candles.