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Prostitution in Hong Kong is itself legal, but organized prostitution is illegal, as there are laws against keeping a vice establishment (brothel), causing or procuring another to be a prostitute, living on the prostitution of others, or public solicitation. [211930]

The most visible public venues for sex workers in Hong Kong, especially for tourists, are topless bars , karaoke bars, massage parlours and the so called "Japanese style night clubs". However, most of the commercial sex worker industry consists of women working in small, usually one room apartments, usually referred to as "one-woman brothels", the equivalent of the "walk-up brothel" in the United Kingdommarker. They advertise for clients through the Internet and local classifieds. Most popular mainstream newspapers will carry such classifieds with a brothel guides as an insert within racing form guides. Yellow neon advertising boxes were used to advertise sexual services to such an extent that "yellow" (黃) became synonymous with prostitution.

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 Kongmarker, 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 (triads) 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

  • Street hookers: they may sometimes be seen on the pavements of Yau Ma Tei, Sham Shui Po, Tsuen Wan, Yuen Longmarker and Tuen Mun. Usually pimps or gangsters are not involved and the prostitute will loiter in the street in search of customers. After a deal is struck, they would go to a love hotel. Before the Asian financial crisis in 1998, street prostitutes would offer a "set course" of services; after that, the set price dropped by half. Some girls will hang around the lobbies of hotels, and will even knock on the doors of the rooms of single men after being tipped off by the concierge. In more down-market accommodation the concierge may ask customers if they require company. Russian and other european prostitutes generally charge higher and are generally located in the business distrist of Central.


  • One-woman brothel: (一樓一鳳 jat1 lau4 jat1 fung2 Yīlóu-yīfèng): by Hong Kong law it is illegal for two or more prostitutes to work in the same premise. As a result, the most common form of legal prostitution in Hong Kong is the so-called "one-woman brothel", where one woman receives customers in her apartment. The expense of the older centers of such activity has led to towns in the New Territories such as Yuen Longmarker and Sheung Shui. becoming centers for the one-woman brothel trade. This law however has little influence on the density of prostitute activity, the nature of Hong Kong housing meaning that entire floors of some buildings or even whole apartment blocks may consist of one woman brothels, with in some the letter of the law being adhered to by the subdivision of flats into multiple individual dwellings.


  • Saunas and massage parlours: ostensibly these are regular saunas with the management turning a blind eye to other services the masseuses may offer. Usually the "menu" on offer will fall just short of vaginal intercourse, with manual stimulation with hands ("hand-job"), breasts ("milk-job" or "Russian") and oral sex ("BJ") being amongst the services available after negotiation.


  • Night club workers: the term nightclub in Hong Kong is being driven from general use for being used as a euphemism for hostess clubs. Hostesses receive a basic retainer and commission for having customers buy expensive drinks, customers pay the club for the privilege of taking the girls out by buying out the girls "time", whatever comes after being a matter of negotiation between the customer and hostess. A similar format can be found at some karaoke lounge with private rooms and even some so called "internet bars".


  • Freelance: the growth of the Internet has facilitated a practice similar to compensated dating with amateur prostitutes offering their services on message boards and forums.


Migrant sex workers

Thailand and Philippines

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 (including transsexuals) and Filipino. Many work on a freelance basis in Wan Chai bars and discothèques.

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.

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.

Mainland China

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.

Many mainland girls advertise their services on websites where they put their pictures, contact numbers and service charges. The youngest and most attractive may offer their services to customers at three- or four-star hotels and provide their services there; their own accommodation is less likely to be of this quality, but usually within a walk or short ride away from the main clusters of hotels, to which they are led to by their pimps, known locally as "grooms".

Older, less attractive girls will find themselves working in the one woman brothels as "phoenixes" (鳳), a term derived from the similarity of the Chinese word for prostitute to that of chicken (雞). Prices are lower than for girls who target the tourist hotels, variations in price being a product of location, with those working within the corridor formed by Nathan Roadmarker being on the whole higher than that found in the towns of the New Territories.

Legal issues

A handwritten sign advertising the prices for various nationalities of women outside a brothel on Soy Street in Kowloon


Prostitution in Hong Kong is legal, but subject to various restrictions, mainly intended to keep it away from the public eye. These restrictions 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 passerby. 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 restricted by Section 141, which prohibits young persons to engage in prostitution. This is the most common form of legal prostitution in Hong Kong.

Strategies to avoid the prohibition on brothels

Brothels are illegal, prostitution in private however is legal. To avoid this prohibition, in practice much of the prostitution is controlled by triad societies or as informal additions to otherwise nonsexual services such as massage parlors, bars and karaoke establishments. Among the many forms of prostitution common in Hong Kong are "one for one" girls. To avoid the operation of an illegal brothel, triads will rent tiny apartments and allow girls to "sublet" them so they appear to be operating out of their own homes. The triads then advertise the girls' services on web sites or in local publications. Another avoidance strategy is to operate a karaoke establishment and provide girls as entertainment or companionship only; the girls then take customers to an hourly hotel in the same building and pay for the room separately. Informal, individual prostitution (mostly of Filipinas, Indonesians, Thais, and sometimes women from Latin America and the former Soviet Union) is almost always available at discos or hotel bars, especially in the Tsim Sha Tsuimarker and Wan Chai districts (the latter famous as the setting for The World of Suzie Wong. Occasionally the police raid the triad-run prostitution setups, but usually the only arrests made are for immigration violations. Women frequently enter Hong Kong from mainland Chinamarker for prostitution services. However, this travel is not forcible; most women working as prostitutes in Hong Kong are of age and are doing so voluntarily .

Movies about prostitution in Hong Kong



Books about prostitution in Hong Kong

  • Whispers and Moans: Interviews with the men and women of Hong Kong's sex industry by Yeeshan Yang (Blacksmith Books, 2006)


Notes

  1. Internet Pimps in Hong Kong
  2. Yang, 52.
  3. Yang, 53.
  4. Yang, 57.
  5. Yang, 145.
  6. Yang, 21.
  7. Hong Kong legal code Chapter 200 Section 139 Keeping a vice establishment.
  8. Yang, 55.
  9. Yang, 99.
  10. Yang, 99-100.
  11. Yang, 100.
  12. Hong Kong legal code Chapter 200 Section 147A Prohibition of signs advertising prostitution.
  13. Hong Kong legal code Chapter 200 Section 130 Control over persons for purpose of unlawful sexual intercourse or prostitution.
  14. Hong Kong legal code Chapter 200 Section 131 Causing prostitution and Section 137 Living on earnings of prostitution of others.
  15. Hong Kong legal code Chapter 200 Section 141 Permitting young person to resort to or be on premises or vessel for intercourse, prostitution, buggery or homosexual act.


See also



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