23 Dec 2022

Man jailed for secretly filming his encounters with 14 sex workers

6:11 pm on 23 December 2022

By Hazel Osborne, Open Justice multimedia journalist of Open Justice by NZ Herald

Sex worker.

Sentencing Judge Ian Mill called the offending "serious" and a devious breach of trust. Photo: 123RF

Warning: This story contains content of a distressing nature, including sexual harm against women and children.

Sex workers who were secretly filmed by a man during sex say it was an "absolute violation" of their privacy.

"I was in total shock ... I was angry and scared for myself," one of his victims told NZME.

The man, John-Paul (JP) Pohe, filmed 14 women during sex and went on to face 17 charges of making an intimate visual recording. His sentencing on Friday last week came one day before International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

Pohe was also sentenced for the repeated rape and sexual violation of a young girl. Each time he filmed the criminal act and kept the footage on his phone - a move that eventually led to him being caught.

The Wellington video producer and former real estate agent was jailed for 11 years, with a minimum non-parole period of five years.

"I feel empowered by reporting," one sex worker's statement read during the sentencing. "It feels like the start of a better future, especially for women."

"I don't want him to hurt anyone else. I want him to learn from this that you respect women the same you respect men... we don't want anyone to mess with us again."

Sentencing Judge Ian Mill called the offending "serious" and a devious breach of trust.

Pohe recorded the 14 sex workers - three of which he recorded twice - without their consent between September 2021 and April this year at four different brothels around the Wellington region.

When filming them, he put his phone in one of his shoes at the end of the bed, to covertly capture the consensual sex.

The discovery of the recordings led to identifying the women, all of whom had no idea they had been filmed during their time with Pohe. In each video the workers' faces are visible.

This was just one of many disturbing realities for the group.

When Scarlett* was told she had been secretly recorded at work, she was in shock.

"I was angry and scared for myself. Initially I was so afraid to step back into the industry."

But Scarlett said she refused to let Pohe "take away her power".

"My power is my voice. I stand up for myself... what else do I have to lose?" she told NZME.

"[The offenders] have to learn their lesson otherwise they will get away with this over and over again."

Scarlett said a majority of the women involved suffered serious trauma - some have "disappeared" and stopped working.

Ella*, another victim, said word of the recordings travelled fast around the sex work community.

It was initially treated as "gossip and drama", but Ella said it was so much more.

"[It's] so much heavier," she said. "So many more implications than just drama... I was praying that I wasn't involved and at first, I thought I wasn't but my boss disclosed to me at the start of my shift that I was involved."

She felt violated, angry, disgusted and helpless. She described the moment as a "stressful emotional roller-coaster".

"It hurts to have something so violating happen when I was just starting out in the industry," Ella said.

"It makes me feel like I have been preyed upon. I felt like the systems that were meant to keep me safe ended up branding me as vulnerable and inexperienced to a predator."

She describes the experience as a "kick in the teeth" but is drawing on her resilience to continue on.

"I never want to be thankful for being harmed, but I can give recognition to the person who has done all the work to grow in the face of harm and that's me," she said.

'We have the right to be safe at work'

Cherida Fraser, community liaison for Aotearoa New Zealand Sex Workers' Collective, said workers of the industry live with stigma and discrimination - but that does not negate their right to justice.

"We have the right to be safe at work just like anybody," Fraser said. "People are still exploiting the stigma of the industry and using it against workers."

Fraser, who continues to support women impacted by the offending, said workers have measures in place to protect themselves against harm but when those safeguards fail it can feel devastating.

"There is self-blame in there," she said. "Sex workers' actions are not to blame here - this person has committed a crime and he has broken the law."

Digital harm is more prevalent with smartphone use, Fraser said, and the offending can be just as violating as any physical harm.

"I think digital violence is increasing against women including sex workers ... it's really important to highlight sex workers can have justice against digital violence just as much as anyone else," she said.

Fraser believes a crime of this nature should be considered a sexual violation and should be treated with the gravity it deserves.

Police had worked incredibly hard to protect the workers, Fraser said, and had made the process for the women victim-centric.

Police have requested the files and the device where they were stored be destroyed.

Both women have encouraged other workers who have been victimised in work-related sexual harm to speak out - but in a way that ensures they are protected.

"Justice doesn't have to look like a sentencing in a courtroom," Emma said.

"Do not be afraid," Scarlett said, addressing other workers.

"You yourself, you're strong, you're powerful so just remember that there is no dead-end - there is always light at the end of the tunnel."

* Names of the sex workers have been changed to protect their identities.

This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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