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The Seamier Side of Hong Kong’s Nightlife

Recently there has been an increase in interest in the situations of sex workers in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has recently been accused of being a transit point for prostitute trafficking, the WTO protesters contained a group of sex workers, one of the two NGOs reaching out to sex workers is losing its funding, and some investigative reporting has been done by the South China Morning Post.

It is estimated that there are about 200,000 prostitutes working in Hong Kong plus about 2,000 male prostitutes, I doubt if these figures surprise anyone in or out of government. It certainly wouldn’t surprise anyone who spends time in Wanchai with its “Girlie” bars and discos, in Mong Kok or Kowloon Tong with its Karaoke lounges, massage parlors and streetwalkers or notices the many so-called “Chinese” nightclubs throughout the city. It comes with being an Asian City where sex for money is considered acceptable, if you are a man, of course. The double standard is as alive and well here in Hong Kong as it is in the rest of the world.

So what are the issues? First, I was surprised to learn that prostitution practiced by a single person who neither solicits nor advertises is legal here. The problem is the thousands of Mainland Chinese, Filipinas, Thais, and others who come here for the express purpose of earning as much money as they can before their tourist visa runs out. This is to say nothing of some domestic helpers who make money on the side as “escorts.” All of the women on tourist visas are working illegally and are subject to all kinds of abuse, not from the police necessarily but from their employers and customers.

Hong Kong has signed the UN Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination against Women which includes sex worker trafficking. Some say Hong Kong isn’t doing enough to curb trafficking even though more than 7,000 women were arrested for prostitution last year. Others say why not de-criminalize prostitution so sex workers have some protection under the law? They characterize it as a victimless crime. I have some trouble with that when I read about women being held against their will in brothels, even here in Hong Kong.

(To be continued tomorrow)