These laws were changed by the Prostitution Reform Act, passed in June 2003.
The decriminalisation of brothels, escort agencies and soliciting, and the substitution of a minimal regulatory model created worldwide interest; New Zealand prostitution laws are now some of the most liberal in the world (see also Prostitution and the law).
Although prior to 2003 New Zealand had several laws meant to suppress prostitution, during the last decades of the 20th century, there had been a high degree of toleration of sex work in practice.
The amount of choice women had about their participation seems to have varied.
Throughout this period there was a severe gender imbalance in the settler population and women were in short supply.
As with other British dependencies, New Zealand inherited both statute and case law from the United Kingdom, for instance the 1824 UK Vagrancy Act was in force until New Zealand passed its own Vagrancy Act (1866–1884). New Zealand was also amongst those dependencies that British authorities pressured into passing Contagious Diseases Acts, New Zealand's was in force from 1869-1910.
Along with food, water and timber, sex was one of the major commodities exchanged for European goods.
The Bay of Islands and in particular the town of Kororareka was notorious for this and brothels proliferated.
It is not clear whether all of these exchanges necessarily constituted prostitution in the usual sense of the word.In some cases the sex may have been part of a wider partnership between a tribe and a ship's crew, akin to a temporary marriage alliance.Prior to 2003, indoor prostitution in New Zealand was governed by the Massage Parlours Act 1978, which allowed brothels to operate in the guise of massage parlours.However, the act defined massage parlours as public places, so laws against soliciting in a public place applied to workers in parlours, and they were sometimes raided and entrapped by police posing as clients.Workers in the parlours were also required to provide their names and addresses to the police.Advertising the sale of sex ("soliciting"), running a brothel, and living off the earnings of prostitution were illegal.