Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II this week honored a New Zealand woman who worked to legalize prostitution in her country. Catherine Healy, 62, a former sex worker, was made a dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit on Monday.
Healy worked as a primary school teacher before becoming a sex worker in a brothel in the 1980s. She formed the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective in 1987 to advocate for legal protections for sex workers and the decriminalization of prostitution. The New Zealand Parliament legalized prostitution by one vote in 2003.
“Hopefully my award is useful for every sex worker,” Healy said. “We are not about fixing sex workers, we’re about recognizing them.”
Healy said she has seen a steady flow of academics from Britain, Holland, and other European nations come to examine the New Zealand model of legalized prostitution.
But critics argue regulating the industry does not protect women from trafficking and abuse. A heart-wrenching investigation into Amsterdam’s legal red light district by Britain’s The Daily Mail in February found a “far more grim, sordid, and dangerous” reality—trafficking, abuse, and blackmail. “We are being sold like something in a shop,” a woman forced to work in Amsterdam told the Mail. —K.C.