New Zealand sex worker wins major payout in sexual harassment case

South China Morning Post

Posted at Dec 15 2020 09:04 AM

Despite much of the case being subject to a confidentiality agreement, it emerged that a substantial settlement was reached between a business owner and a sex worker, to compensate her for emotional harm and lost earnings.

Sex rights activist and national coordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Catherine Healy called it a "milestone" case.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Office of Human Rights Proceedings director Michael Timmins said the settlement was "substantial".

Chinese sex workers in New Zealand shunned amid coronavirus fears

Timmins said that in taking a civil case, the harassed worker was incredibly courageous and was pleased with the outcome.

"The complainant was incredibly brave. It's often difficult for a sex worker to stand up for their rights but in this case the sex worker did, which is exceptionally important," he said.

"The sex worker would say she felt vindicated and I hope that the sex worker feels a sense of achievement because it was the bravery and persistence of that person to engage in a system that isn't easy for complainants and yet that person was still able to achieve some justice."

Timmins said the settlement served as an important reminder to businesses across New Zealand that under the Human Rights Act all workers, regardless of the type of work they do, had a right to do their job without sexual harassment in the workplace.

"We encourage all business owners and employers to ensure that they understand and respect those rights," said Timmins.

"With the #MeToo era, more and more complaints of sexual harassment are being brought forward. It's good that people are coming forward with these complaints but it's also a stain that this is acceptable conduct in businesses up and down the country."

Row over New Zealand ceramic dildo workshop sparks bullying of woman

Healy said the case came after New Zealand supported "really progressive legislation to enable this kind of ruling to occur".

"We know there has been some sloppy, inappropriate actions which have seen to be the norm or culturally accepted practices. It's a warning really to operators of brothels and anyone in a relationship with a sex worker in the workforce to be very aware that sex workers don't have to put up with their practices," she said.

The sex worker case served as a benchmark payout, Timmins said. "Part of what this office wants to achieve is to take cases through trial and to win and then increase the damages that are being awarded to sex harassment complainants. In New Zealand the current ceiling is about NZ$25,000 (US$17,700) for damages.

"In this case we settled for a six-figure sum, which is substantial and is showing the seriousness of the matter and how we thought it merited that sort of award."

Timmins said many sexual harassment cases had non-disclosure agreements but the office wanted to make sure there was some form of public transparency. The best way was to have an agreed statement, he said.

The sex worker had initially filed sexual harassment proceedings in the Human Rights Commission but because the matter was unresolved she turned to the Office of the Human Rights Proceedings to take the case to the Human Rights Tribunal. Before the case was heard, a deal was struck.

'Sex work/escort' is on New Zealand's skilled employment list

Timmins said while the office had more cases of sexual harassment awaiting hearings, none involved sex workers.

In 2014, a 22-year-old brothel worker was awarded NZ$25,000 for sexual harassment, with the Human Rights Tribunal hearing the brothel owner reportedly told the woman he could do what he liked with the women who worked for him.

Additional reporting by Agence France Presse

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch more on iWantTFC