China's punitive laws and policing practices against sex workers are leading to serious abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report published today. These abuses include police violence, arbitrary detention of up to two years in re-education through
labor and custody and education centers, and coercive HIV testing. There are an estimated four to six million sex workers in China, the overwhelming majority of them women.
The report, Swept Away: Abuses Against Sex Workers in China , documents abuses by the police against female sex workers in Beijing, including torture, beatings, physical assaults, arbitrary detentions, and fines, as well as a failure to
investigate crimes against sex workers by clients, bosses, and state agents. The report also documents abuses by public health agencies, such as coercive HIV testing, privacy infringements, and mistreatment by health officials.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said:
In China, the police often act as if by engaging in sex work, women had forfeited their rights. The government must abandon its repressive laws against sex workers, discipline abusive police, and end the suppression of sex workers rights advocates.
The Chinese government has allowed the unchecked growth of the sex industry in recent decades, with millions of women turning to sex work as a way of earning a living. Yet the government maintains officially a blanket ban on sex work, viewing it as an
ugly social phenomenon that goes against socialist spiritual civilization, and treating it as a misdemeanor punishable by fines or short-term detention.
During periodic anti-prostitution drives, often lasting several weeks and linked to larger strike hard campaigns against crime, police repeatedly raid entertainment venues, hair salons, massage parlors, and other spaces where sex work
occurs, detaining large numbers of women suspected of being sex workers. Sex workers are most at risk of abuses such as police brutality and arbitrary detention during these drives. Domestic activists working on rights for Chinese sex workers have also
denounced these police raids.
Chinese police can also send suspected sex workers, without due process or a trial, for up to two years' detention in a re-education through labor camp or so-called custody and education centers. While the government announced in January
2013 that it would reform re-education through labor, there has been no similar announcement for the estimated 183 custody and education centers, holding more than 15,000 inmates, most of whom are women. Both institutions constitute
forms of arbitrary detention under international law, Human Rights Watch said, since they allow people to be deprived of their liberty without due process of law.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Chinese government to enact legislation to remove criminal and administrative sanctions against voluntary, consensual sex work and related offenses such as solicitation. Human Rights Watch also called for an end to the
periodic anti-prostitution mobilization campaigns that have generated severe abuses against women engaging in sex work.
Abuses by law-enforcement agencies deter sex workers from seeking help from the police when they are victims of crime, or from public health services when they are in need of assistance, said Richardson. This makes them more vulnerable to
abuses and exploitation. If China is serious about protecting and promoting women's rights, it cannot ignore the millions of women who engage in sex work.
She was held for months without charge or trial, forced to labour seven days a week without wages, and made to pay for her incarceration. Pan Li is
one of hundreds of thousands who have been held at their own expense in China s little known detention system for female sex workers and their clients.
Beijing has heralded this year's decision to supposedly abolish re-education through labour (RTL) camps, long condemned for lack of judicial oversight. But human rights groups say it is partial progress at best, given the persistence of similar
measures allowing imprisonment without trial.
Thousands of people are still thought to be held in a parallel system known as "custody and education", overseen by public security officials rather than judges. Unlike prisoners, or RTL inmates, the detainees must pay living costs and
take compulsory tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
The original intention ... was to penalise unlawful behaviour that did not reach the level of a criminal offence but it has become a penalty even harsher than criminal penalties, warns a new report from Asia Catalyst , a health and human rights
group that wants the system abolished. Few have even heard of it, not least because stigma and fear of retaliation make former detainees reluctant to discuss it.
Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have announced an impending three month-long anti-prostitution campaign, after a television expose in Dongguan prompted an oppressive raid.
The expose' and heavy-handed response have proved surprisingly controversial in China , where prostitution is technically illegal but practically ubiquitous. Internet users and human rights groups have criticised authorities for shaming and
intimidating female sex workers rather than offering them help.
The UN estimates that four to six million women work in the country's sex industry nationwide, many of them in brothels thinly disguised as hair salons, massage parlours and karaoke bars.
In the expose, aired by state broadcaster CCTV, undercover reporters visited a range of upscale hotels and karaoke bars in the city of Dongguan, known as a prostitution hot spot. In one segment, a reporter enters a room divided by one-way
glass; on the other side, two scantily-clad women dance provocatively to a Lady Gaga song. A venue employee identifies them by their numbers, prices, and hometowns.
The city responded to the broadcast by dispatching 6,525 police officers in a raid. They arrested 67 people and closed 12 entertainment venues. Pictures posted online showed lines of men and women kneeling on the floor in the middle of a hotel
lobby, their heads down and their hands cuffed, surrounded by scores of uniformed police.
Guangdong authorities will now launch a three-month, province-wide crackdown on prostitution. Local police officers who are found protecting the sex industry or who organise sexual services will be severely punished, said Li Chunsheng,
the province's vice-governor.
In addition to a news feature on China Central Television about the corruption of the sex industry in Dongguan, the official Sina Weibo published an eight-hour population in-flow and out-flow map of Donguan city, which has been interpreted as
the escape path of prostitutes and prostitution clients during the crackdown. Generated by Baidu Qianxi with data from Baidu map, the map indicated that most people fleeing the crackdown escaped to Hong Kong.
Originally, Baidu Qianxi was designed as a visualization tool that could map population flows during the Chinese Lunar New Year. But as Luo Changping at Letscorp pointed out [zh], the fact that Baidu Qianxi was able to appropriate the data
surrounding the prostitution crackdown suggests that authorities are using mass surveillance to track these patterns, rather than only targeting criminal suspects, and thereby violating the personal privacy of untold numbers of citizens.
The use of geolocation tracking technology in this crackdown by the party propaganda authority indicates to the public that the police authority, through Baidu and other mobile application developers, is capable of tracking mobile phones and
thus the real identity of individuals, as nearly all mobile numbers are linked with the owner's identity card. In reaction to this threat, many Hong Kong netizens said that they planned to shut down their mobile when traveling in China.
The Chinese government has sacked the police chief of Dongguan following a report by the main state broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), on the underground sex industry there, the Xinhua news agency has reported.
Yan Xiaokang, who was also Dongguan's vice mayor, was removed from his posts for dereliction of duty, Xinhua said, quoting Communist party officials in Guangdong province.
Yan's dereliction of duty led to the persistent illegal sex trade in Dongguan, which has reflected very badly on the city, both domestically and internationally, Xinhua reported, citing a party statement. It added that another seven
Dongguan officials were also sacked in relation to the case.