A former sex worker who was arrested in an illegal brothel in the 1980s has just been made a dame in the queen's birthday honours list for her services to sex work.
Catherine Healy, 62, who helped decriminalise prostitution in New Zealand in 2003 and has long campaigned for sex workers' rights, said she was surprised to have received the honour on Monday.
"I burst into tears," she told the New Zealand Herald, referring to the moment she was told of the honour, which makes her a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. "It was completely unexpected. It doesn't happen to me, this stuff. A grand dame."
Healy helped found the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective in 1986 and has been its co-ordinator. The organisation advocates greater safety around prostitution, supports sex workers' rights and was instrumental in pushing for prostitution to be decriminalised.
"Many people assume sex workers just want to be rescued," she told the New Zealand Herald. "But most of us just wanted labour rights like everyone else. When I started as a sex worker there was nothing. There was just dodgy advice whispered in a hallway."
She said the honour was yet more evidence of a shift in social attitudes towards prostitution in the country. The bill to decriminalise the practice passed by just one vote in 2003 whereas now, she told the Guardian, sex workers "are sitting around table as equals with the police and plotting how to make sex work safer and allowing workers to report sexual violence."
Since 2003, it has been legal to keep a brothel, live off the proceeds of someone else's sex work, coerce sex workers and solicit sex in the street in New Zealand. The bill also gave sex workers protection under employment, health and safety laws for the first time.
While prostitution (sex in exchange for money) is itself legal in England, Wales and Scotland, many associated activities are illegal, including soliciting sex in a public place, finding clients in the street, running a brothel and profiting from someone else's sex work.