Dongguan bids to clean up its act - again
Updated: 2014-02-12 09:46
By Qiu Quanlin in Dongguan, Cui Jia, Tang Yue and Yang Wanli in Beijing (China Daily)
It 'just comes back'
Cracking down on prostitution in Dongguan is not new. Actually, it has been listed as one of the main tasks in the government's work report almost every year since 2002.
"It is not the first time that hotels and clubs in Dongguan have been raided. But prostitution just comes back," said Chi Susheng, a lawyer and a deputy to the National People's Congress - China's top legislative body - from 1998 to 2013. "How many policemen are needed to keep Dongguan free of sex workers? It is unrealistic."
A card advertising sex services was found at Guoan Hotel in Dongguan. Fang Guangming / for China Daily
Several times during her tenure with the NPC, Chi proposed that prostitution be legalized.
Past decades have proved that it's impossible to eradicate the sex industry, and so the wise strategy is to regulate rather than criminalize it, she said. "No matter where we go on business trips in China and stay in a hotel, the small card with a sex-service advertisement always sneaks in through the door slot at night. It is not surprising to receive calls from girls at midnight. They always hang up immediately when they find I'm a woman," she said.
Chi first proposed legalization during the NPC session in 2006 because she was concerned about the rising danger of HIV/AIDS - which is partly due to unsafe sex practices in the underground industry. Now she sees more reasons: the sexual depression of migrant workers, the unbalanced gender ratio and other reasons.
As a lawyer, Chi said she has seen cases in which sex workers are killed or clients are blackmailed - problems that regulation would help to solve, she said.
In many cases where power has been involved with criminal gangs, local officials or police officers have proved to be protectors or bosses in the illegal sex industry.
She said she was a little surprised by the TV report because in the past, reports were just propaganda showing how the police successfully cracked down, rather than going deeper into the issue and revealing real people through actual footage.
"Public opinion has also changed greatly," she said. "Two years ago, when I advocated for sex workers' rights online, people all made moral judgments and swore at them. But people have gradually become more rational and understanding and many appear much more tolerant when the coverage came out this time."
Ye said the crackdown on the sex-service industry always comes on suddenly and then vanishes. When there is a new governor or a new police head, they always launch a campaign, but it's never consistent, she said.
Also, it is no secret that to run such a business, you must maintain a good relationship with the local police. Some policemen are even frequent clients, which undermines the authority of the law, Ye said.
She added that people now tend to be more sympathetic with low-paid sex workers, as many people from rural areas have few other options for supporting a family. Public opinion is harsher toward prostitutes in Dongguan, she said, because they are thought capable of getting other jobs.
"But in my opinion, it's their right to use their body and be a sex worker," Ye said.
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