Prostitution in Hong Kong

Prostitution in Hong Kong is legal, but a whole host of activities surrounding prostitution are not, such as soliciting for sex and living off "immoral earnings".

The main public venues for sex workers in Hong Kong are topless bars, karaoke bars and massage parlours. However, much of the commercial sex worker industry consists of women working in small, usually first floor one room apartments (usually referred to as "one-woman brothels"). They advertise for clients through the Internet and local classifieds such as in free magazine Brink. Another major aspect of this trade is migrant sex workers. These sex workers are particularly visible in the Wan Chai district, catering mainly to Western businessmen and tourists. The sex workers operating in this area are predominantly Thai and Filipino. Many work on a freelance basis in Wan Chai bars and discotheques. Transsexual sex workers from Thailand seeking clients can also be seen in the Wan Chai district. There are several NGOs that work closely with sex workers in Hong Kong; these include Ziteng and Aids Concern . Ziteng campaigns for changes in the law, in particular the overturn of ban on brothels with more than one prostitute, since this prevents sex workers banding together for protection.

The laws of Hong Kong currently allow classified ads for prostitution and websites that allow clients to make appointments with prostitutes.

History

From 1879 to 1932, prostitution was decriminalized and prostitutes were required to register for licenses, pay tax, and have regular health examination. Prostitution boomed in the districts of Sai Ying Pun, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei. In 1930, Hong Kong, with a population of 1.6 million, boasted 200 legal brothels with over 7,000 licensed prostitutes. But in 1932, the Hong Kong government issued a ban on prostitution and three years later licensed prostitution ended. From that time on, prostitution was permitted within strict limits while prohibiting a whole host of activities surrounding prostitution, such as soliciting for sex and living off "immoral earnings" (working as a pimp). Although organized prostitution is illegal, the industry had always depended on gangsters to recruit economically disadvantaged women who otherwise would never enter the profession voluntarily. Until the 1980s, most Hong Kong underground sex establishments were run by gangsters. During the 1990s, however, Hong Kong saw a massive shift in the form of prostitution. There was an influx of "northern girls" from mainland China who worked as prostitutes illegally in Hong Kong on their short tourist visas; local voluntary prostitutes also increased dramatically in number. As a result, gangsters could no longer make a profit by coercion and their controlling power declined.

Types and venues

Migrant sex workers

Many migrant sex workers arrive on a short tourist visa and try to make as much as money as possible by prostituting illegally before leaving Hong Kong, some returning frequently. There are also "underground" organizations (such as Thai restaurants and escort bars) that arrange for foreign (usually Thai) and mainland girls to gain work in Hong Kong legally with an entertainment visa, but in fact they actually work in go-go bars in Wan Chai or other hostess clubs around Hong Kong. Despite the more visible presence of Thai and Filipino sex workers in Hong Kong, the majority of migrant sex workers who come to Hong Kong are from mainland China. It is reported that with RMB10,000-20,000, mainland Chinese girls would normally secure a three-month visa. Other frequent or previously deported visitors might experience tight visa requirements and would normally obtain only seven-day visas. Owing to the short stays and other expensive costs (to pay for the travel arrangements and cover the high cost of renting apartments, advertising etc. in Hong Kong), sex workers would exert all their energy and work from morning till night during their seven-day stay. The necessity to make money quickly also means that the sex workers are more likely to take risks. Also if the sex workers are abused, they are less likely to seek redress from the relevant authorities.

Legal issues

Prostitution in Hong Kong is legal, but subject to various controls, mainly intended to keep it away from the public eye. These controls are manifested in the form of prohibiting a whole host of activities surrounding prostitution, including soliciting and advertising for sex, working as pimps, running brothels and organized prostitution. For instance, by the Hong Kong legal code Chapter 200 Section 147, any person who "solicits for any immoral purpose" in a public place may receive a maximum penalty of HK$ 10,000 and six months' imprisonment. In practice, a woman on the street in certain areas well-known for streetwalkers such as Sham Shui Po might well be arrested even if seen smiling at a male passer-by. Advertisement of sex services, including signboards, illuminated signs and posters, is also prohibited, and an offence may result in imprisonment for 12 months.

Organized prostitution, in the form of directing "over another person for the purpose of... that person's prostitution", is forbidden by Section 130, and an offence may result in 14 years of imprisonment. Sections 131 and 137, which are aimed at pimps, stipulate a jail sentence of seven years as the maximum penalty for "procuring another person to become a prostitute" and "living on earnings of prostitution of others". Under Hong Kong law, it is also illegal to organize arrangement of sex deals for more than one woman; violators are subject to a HK$20,000 fine and seven years' imprisonment. Therefore, if two women are found serving customers in the same apartment, it is an illegal brothel. This gives rise to the so-called "one-woman brothel" where one woman receives customers in her apartment, which is regulated by Section 141. This is the most common form of legal prostitution in Hong Kong.

Movies about prostitution in Hong Kong

References