Sex Workers in Hong Kong: Discrimination and the Debate Over Decriminalization

Sex Workers in Hong Kong: Discrimination and the Debate Over Decriminalization
Photo Credit : Reuters / 達志影像

What you need to know

Sex workers in Hong Kong are facing police abuse and targeted investigations.

While rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Hong Kong have been the focus of local activist work, Hong Kongers still discriminate against sex workers, one commentator says.

In 2015, more than 10 officials from foreign consulates and 15,500 people participated in Pink Dot, an annual international LGBT movement.

However, “We cannot ignore the rights of sex workers,” A-hong (阿泓) writes. He says that the group needs more support than LGBT people, because no public figure, nor foreign official, is willing to speak out for them.

Sex worker dilemma

There are currently more than 10,000 sex workers in Hong Kong, according to Amnesty International.

Although there is no direct law prohibiting prostitution in Hong Kong, several laws restrict the sex industry. "Living on earnings of prostitution of others," "managing a vice establishment" or "soliciting for an immoral purpose" are banned.

According to surveys conducted periodically by Zi Teng (紫藤), an organization promoting the rights of sex workers, some Hong Kong police sexually abuse workers.

In a newsletter published by Zi Teng, in the first four months of 2016 the organization received 206 complaints of violence from sex workers. Nineteen cases related to abuse by clients while 187 related to the police.

NGOs told Amnesty International that police are legally allowed to have “physical contact” with sex workers. Police pretend to be clients, and lure workers to perform sex acts before detaining them. To collect evidence, the police ask the detainees for excessive personal information and threaten them.

“I do not dare to report being raped for fear that I will be accused of prostitution,” says Chun-erh (君兒), a sex worker in Hong Kong.

Cross-gender sex workers face targeted investigation

The situation facing cross-gender sex workers appears to be even worse. Some are treated as psychotic after being sent to the police station and forced to receive hormonal therapy.

According to Midnight Blue, another LGBT activist group, police have been known to target male sex workers when conducting massive raids.

“All professions are equal,” writes A-hong. “Sex workers are also laborers and their jobs also require much effort.”

He calls for more focus on the sex industry by citing a statement issued by Queers United Against Straight-acting Homosexuals in the 1990s: “Let’s build families that promote sexual choices and liberation rather than sexual oppression.”

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White