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.
China is to end a punishment system for prostitution that allowed police to hold sex workers and their clients in custody for up to two years in prison camps it euphemistically called 'education centres'. Detainees were forced to work, allegedly making
toys and household goods.
The detention system will come to an end on 29 December. Those still in custody will be released, according to Xinhua, China's state media.
Prostitution remains illegal in China. It carries punishments of up to 15 days
in detention and fines of up to 5,000 yuan (£546).
A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch interviewed 140 sex workers, clients, police and specialists and found that many sex workers were beaten by police in an attempt to coerce confessions.
isn't totally abandoning the idea of 're-educatio'n. Authorities in the country claim a number of camps in the north-west region of Xinjiang are voluntary education camps that help to combat extremism.