Tomorrow’s Economist carries a profile of Ye Haiyan, an outspoken sex-worker advocate who once turned prostitute for a day in order to investigate the trade, and her campaign to decriminalize or even legalize prostitution in China.
In a society with little welfare or national-health benefits, poverty-stricken women often sell their bodies out of desperation. “Providing sex services is the only way to survive,” says Ms Ye, who believes legalising prostitution will keep women safer and protect public health.
Many government officials would approve of legalisation to help spur the economy, but few will say so out loud, says Pan Suiming of Renmin University’s Institute for Sexuality and Gender in Beijing.
Ms Ye has some prominent allies. Chi Susheng, a lawyer, says China should build red-light districts, license sex workers, and standardise regulations to prevent the spread of HIV. She cites the example of Taiwan, which decriminalised prostitution in designated red-light districts last year, and Sweden, where prostitutes can register to pay taxes. Since 2003, Ms Chi has submitted three proposals to legalise prostitution to the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament. All have failed.
Last week, a video of a policeman interviewing naked girls in a raid on a Beijing health club suspected of operating as a brothel provoked over 73,000 comments on a Chinese website. One scene in the clip shows a girl with a bowed head shielding her body on a bed, as another girl stands naked against a wall before a plain-clothed officer. Web users expressed dismay that suspects were not allowed to get dressed before questioning.
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