Queen Elizabeth Named A New Zealand Sex Worker Advocate A Dame

"It's indicative of a shift in people's attitudes, and it's lovely to feel supported."

On June 4, Queen Elizabeth II awarded an advocate for New Zealand sex workers with one of the nation's highest honors. Activist Catherine Healy was named the Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Healy, the founder of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), is well-known for advocating for sex worker rights. The 62-year-old got her start in advocacy after seeing her friends being mistreated in the industry, without proper work-rights protections.

"We were spoken about as young sex workers in a disrespectful way," Healy told the BBC. "We needed to find our voice and we needed to be understood."

Through the NZPC, Healy helped draft the Prostitution Reform Act, which in turn decriminalized prostitution in New Zealand in 2003, making New Zealand the first country to do so. 

As a result, sex workers now have formal contracts, better labor conditions, and the right to report violence. They also have the right to healthy and safe working conditions. 

The former school teacher  got her start as a sex worker in the 1980s. She told The Associated Press that she worked as sex worker for 7 years to help pay the bills.

In an interview with the BBC, Haley said the honor from Queen Elizabeth was "very significant."

"I was startled when this was offered," she told the BBC. "I'm shocked. I think even a few weeks ago I wouldn't have thought this was possible. It's indicative of a shift in people's attitudes, and it's lovely to feel supported."

Cover image via Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com.

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