A woman who runs a children's play group at her local Baptist church keeps one detail of her life secret from most fellow congregants: She was a prostitute for two years. Alana (her "working name") now lives for God. Today she assists local sex workers with health and tax issues, as well as those who want to leave the world's so-called oldest profession.

Her workload may very well increase next year. Parliament, supported by nearly every national politician, is set to decriminalize prostitution in a country where it is illegal to sell sex but not to buy it.

New Zealand's significant Protestant minority, meanwhile, is divided on the legislation. Most Christian leaders say it will lead to a season of "open slather" in prostitution in this prosperous nation of 3.8 million people. Others, however, including the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and people like Alana, support the measure as a way to protect sex workers.

Morality vs. Safety

The YWCA, while not condoning prostitution, maintains that protecting the marginalized is a core Christian principle and that ultimately the bill will help women leave the sex trade.

"We know that people are being exploited in the industry, but they are being ignored," says Jan Logie, the YWCA's executive director. "There is no protection. Our primary concern is for their safety."

There are 8,000 sex workers in New Zealand, according to the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective, a charitable organization. During the past five years, only 410 people have been convicted of prostitution-related offenses. Under New Zealand law, prostitution is not an offense, but soliciting, brothel-keeping, and living off the earnings of prostitution are. The measure would repeal current laws against procuring ...

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