Catherine Healy, a longtime sex work activist, has been made a dame by the goddamn Queen of New Zealand. On Monday, the 62-year-old who successfully fought for the decriminalization of sex work in the country, was recognized with an Order of Merit “for services to the rights of sex workers.”
“I was startled when this was offered,” she told the BBC. “I’m in shock.”
She began her career as a school teacher and then turned to sex work at an illegal brothel in the ‘80s. Healy, who was arrested early on during a police raid, “was shocked at the lack of protections in place, especially after coming from the unionized profession of teaching,” reports the BBC.
So, she co-founded the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, a sex worker rights organization. The group was instrumental in passing the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalized sex work in the country. Research has shown that, post-decriminalization, the country’s sex workers feel more empowered to negotiate safer sex and refuse clients, and are better protected from violence.
Healy—excuse me, Dame Healy—was among many others who received honors given by Queen Elizabeth II. “I think even a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought this was possible,” she told the BBC. “It’s indicative of a shift in people’s attitudes and it’s lovely to feel supported.”
Although, she notes that attitudes haven’t shifted everywhere. As she told the Herald, “We’ve got a wee way to go to make sure that every sex worker is safe every time everywhere.”