'Personal vendetta' behind claims illegal migrants stealing work - sex worker

Some Kiwi sex workers say there's an influx of migrants advertising illegal sex work on escort websites.
Some Kiwi sex workers say there's an influx of migrants advertising illegal sex work on escort websites. Photo credit: newzealandgirls.co.nz

A sex worker claims illegal migrant sex work isn't an industry-wide problem, but instead just a case of several people with an axe to grind.

On Tuesday, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) admitted to under-reporting the number of complaints they've received about it - and two sex workers told Newshub that local escorts were struggling in an overcrowded market.

That claim has been refuted by Shelby, a Canadian sex worker who's lived in New Zealand for 20 years. She says the idea that an influx of migrants is putting locals out of work is greatly exaggerated.

"Every market has its ups and downs."

She points out the fact that 34 of the 57 complaints about migrant sex workers made to INZ from December 2014 to March 2018 were made by one person.

"Sixty percent of those complaints were made by someone with a personal vendetta," she says.

"It seems like someone's full of anger... don't blame somebody else because your business is slow."

Shelby has worked in the sex industry for four years, and has been independent since 2015. In that time she's only encountered three escorts who were working illegally while on temporary visas, none of which were Chinese or Brazilian - the ethnicities most commonly associated with 'sex tourism'.

"They were all university-educated, strong women who were quite capable of taking care of themselves."

While she didn't approve of what they were doing, she didn't report them as she'd been encouraged to do by certain people in the sex industry. 

"It's not my place to judge."

Christchurch sex worker Amber O'Hara told Newshub that online ads for migrants often contain "certain little giveaways" of their visa status, such as prominently displaying their nationality. Shelby doesn't deny this, but says there's an easy explanation.

"Clients are attracted to different things," she says. "Some people go based off age, size and yes, nationality. It's a marketing tool to specify where you're from."

As for the claim that escort websites are crowded with migrants, she doesn't buy it.

"If there are exploited girls, you won't see them on newzealandgirls.co.nz. It's more likely they'll be in a brothel somewhere with no ads, just word of mouth."

The one point she agrees with is that anyone working in New Zealand should be paying tax here.

"It's not okay to come here and make lots of money and then leave without paying tax."

She believes that people on temporary visas should legally be able to do sex work in New Zealand, meaning they would pay tax and feel safe in their jobs.

"Migrant workers don't feel like they have a voice; they put up with shit they shouldn't, out of fear of being deported," Shelby explained.

"They're terrified they'll be dobbed in by another sex worker."

She says sex workers are some of the strongest and best women she knows.

"We're all in this together. This fighting about migrant workers has to stop."

In response, Ms O'Hara says she's pleased Shelby hasn't been affected by migrant sex work, but that her comments miss the point.

"To say you’ve never been affected is not the argument. For example, I’ve never been burgled, but I don’t say that those who have been have therefore got a vendetta when they say they would like police to be more effective with their responses. The law is the law."

She claims that Kiwis and Australians are "outnumbered two to one" by migrants advertising illegally on newzealandgirls.co.nz.

Lisa Lewis, who also spoke to Newshub about the issue, says she'll welcome anyone coming to do sex work here when other countries stop discriminating against Kiwi sex workers.

"Until then I stand at my decision that the law be upheld and that it is illegal to provide commercial sex work in New Zealand whilst on a visitor visa and I will continue to report them out of respect for LEGAL sex workers in New Zealand standing up for those workers who can’t voice this and pay tax as legal workers do. 

"The illegal girls need to f**k off and stop stealing our money.  They’re breaking the law.

"We aren’t all going to get on, but we respect the ones that play the game by the rules. Those that cheat their way through life or steal from others, which is what illegal girls are doing, are NEVER respected in any industry."