Recently, after pressure from sex workers for protection rights, the government in Taiwan has taken steps toward legalizing prostitution. In six months’ time, sex workers in Taiwan will no longer be prosecuted for their trade, and a red-light district may be set up in the capital, Taipei. While it is obviously controversial, we thought we would take a look at the debate for decriminalized prostitution, and what legislation in our neighbor across the strait might mean for us mainlanders.
Taiwan outlawed prostitution 11 years ago, yet The Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, a Taipei-based advocacy group, estimates that 600,000 people work in sex-related jobs under the guise of ‘tea houses’ and ‘massage parlors’.
Under current law, prostitutes have to pay either a 30,000 TWD fine or spend three days in detention if arrested, while their clients walk away unscathed. The new initiatives in Taiwan would help protect prostitutes from both their customers and the police. One woman told the AFP, “Right now we are helpless when customers don’t pay, or even rob or hurt us. I don’t like what I do for a living but […] I just hope the government will protect my safety so I am not always at the mercy of others.”
Those in favor of regulating the sex trade add that it acts as a method of preventing sex crimes, as well as educates prostitutes about STDs and practicing safe sex. Legalizing the sex trade, so the argument goes, helps empower women who have very little options in life to begin with, and after all still have rights as human beings.
Of course, there are many objections to legalizing prostitution. Advocacy groups in Taiwan fear giving prostitution the go-ahead condones the exploitation of a woman as an object, and therefore opens an entire Pandora’s box of moral and ethical degeneration: prostitution as a legitimate job, increased violence and injustice towards women, rise in human trafficking, money laundering, and so on.
So what does this mean for China? We’ve posted previously on the plight of the Chinese xiaojie and a certain Shanghaiist editor had the foresight to wonder if China’s booming sex industry would ever lead to legalization.
Basically the facts are this: Xiaojies have little recourse in China when something goes wrong, which often happens, and sex worker murders are disturbingly common.
With Taiwan being the latest country to legalize prostitution, we still won’t hold our breath on China following suit, but at least we can hope for a shift in mindset makes life a little less rough for those working the red light districts.