19 August 2019
Hunter's Corner - A Dilemma of Publiic Space.
Whenever someone mentions Hunter's corner these days there's an immediate reaction. The prostitutes are getting plenty of prime time advertising for free. The local business community, who have to clean up after them, claim that that everyone should be to walk or drive along the street without being propositioned or having to avoid human waste products.
For at least the last five years, these activities have been taking over the streets at night and in the early morning. Safe Sex is definitely practised as the number of condoms picked up at the back of the church here on Sunday mornings can testify, and the childcare centre round the corner has an equal aversion to finding those articles and discarded needles where the children play. Somehow, although Manukau City council is behind moves to move the late night trading in sex off the streets, [which most of us thought along with safety for the workers, was the purpose of the prostitution reform acts], nothing has changed. Why not I wonder? Is it because we are South Auckland? If this was on the main street of Howick would it still be there?
In September 2005 I wrote the following in a sermon which was picked up on the internet by the latest reporters to interview me - this time for a Samoan newspaper. "We donít condone the behaviour of those who leap into the cars of the unwary men who slow down at the traffic lights along the road or proposition young boys or cause a situation where women find a car slowing down beside them as they walk along the road, that is simply not acceptable.
But we are also the company of those who are told to love our neighbour, and that neighbour, the gospel of Matthew tells us can be a tax collector or a prostitute. We are the witness of Godís being for people and for life. Life for the prostitute, for the children at the childcare , for the business people and the customers and for ourselves and our community. Of course what is going on at Hunterís corner under cover of darkness is not life affirming and is threatening to destroy this community if those who live here allow that to happen. Nor is it helpful for those who drive this trade in people, the cruising customers. But as church we cannot just ask for people to be eliminated so we are more comfortable. We are in the hard place of asking for transformation. I will say that the business Association - of which we are part, also would really like transformation. So what do we do?"
I watched last week as good local people got so frustrated that they are patrolling the streets at night to dissuade the customers. They naively thought that most people would understand that it is extremely unpleasant to live and work where others simply use the place as their private arena with no thought of others. The media , instead, has painted them as vigilantes. We cannot blame the news media, after all they are not there to sort out the truth but to provide entertainment and Hunters Corner provides plenty of that.
Placing straightforward locals whom we all know and respect, against the smooth and PR savvy Prostitutes Collective speakers is like throwing them to the TV fed wolves.
The moral high ground was claimed by the female sex workers with words like marginalised and oppressed, the implication is that the delicate women are being persecuted by these local men.
One fact they did not stress is that many of the prostitutes are men. Although they may identify and dress as women, they have the build and strength of men and can be quite intimidating. When Stephen Gray was assaulted and the charge against one of the prostitutes was taken to court it was dismissed, as the judge said the prostitute was provoked. Stephen, in fact had his two daughters in the car with him when he was chased by the group and certainly was not going to put his daughters in any danger by provoking an assault. This escalates the problem into a different place. The media are now reinforcing their case with the locals as the "badies" - the aggressors, the police seem to be doing nothing, and an attack has been blamed on the victim who has expressed his opinion that the trade at the corner is taking over a public place. I await the time when Stephen is told he is provoking someone by walking along the road. Freedom of differing groups are clashing here and that is the essential problem.
Prostitution is legal and the morality of it is not the issue. The issue is - can a group of people take over a public place?. One person "negotiating" a compromise, asked the prostitutes to go off the streets behind the buildings. That means the owners of those properties have to do the cleaning up, and that includes us at the church. No one seemed to question that someone was "negotiating " the use of other people's properties or even a public place to give rights of use to a group demanding to be able to do their business [and why if there are now brothels around us do some get to have free premises?] But the question for us in the church is also that we need to ask is who and why are people having the need to work as prostitutes and who in fact benefits? Is there something in our system producing this [we know that drug use is a consequence of the activities]?
The whole situation is very sad. I have normally refused to comment, as all the media want to do is put the church into the stereotype of being morally outraged and we must remain FOR people.
Some of those trading down the street are lonely and desperate and those using their services even more so, not to speak of the unknowing victims - their wives and partners wondering where their infection has come from.
So let us pray for our community, which is full of good things happening, and also pray that the media not escalate the situation and a creative and life giving solution can be found for the people who work in all activities in our neighbourhood.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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