When Kent logged in to a chat room with a username that means “looking for someone to keep” (想包養) last September, he had no idea this kind of online jesting would land him in jail for three months.
Neither did Jay know he would be prosecuted for a crime that carries a possible five-year jail sentence and/or fines of up to NT$1 million, when he left messages saying he was seeking a one-night stand on two adult-oriented Web sites last month.
The law that has brought these two — and many others — sleepless nights filled with gnawing fear and humiliation is Article 29 of the Anti-Sexual Business Provisions for Children and Teenagers (兒童及青少年性交易防治條例), which was enacted in August 2005.
Article 29 states that spreading, broadcasting or publishing messages that solicit or hint at sexual transactions over print publications, television, the Internet and other media is subject to prosecution. When applied to cyberspace, the article states that a Web message that hints at exchanging money for sex is considered a violation of the law. In other words, Article 29 punishes people not for what they do, but for what they say on the Internet.
In reality, this means that Web users face the hazard of being manipulated by undercover police into arranging a meeting for possible sexual transactions and being arrested in flagrante delicto.
According to activists, people who leave usernames or messages on the Net using terms such as pao yang (包養), or keep, yuan chiao (援交), or escort service, or requests for a one-night stand are brought to police stations to be interrogated, the transcripts of which later become evidence for their “crimes.” Even people who use homophones for yuan (援) are deemed questionable and, in many cases, found guilty as charged.
“We are persecuted for what we think and say. If it is not White Terror all over again, then what is it?” says Pan Shih-hsin (潘世新), who set up the Article 29 Study Group (兒少法29條研究會) last year, an online support group for the victims of Article 29 that already has about 1,900 registered members.
The origins of Article 29 date back to the late 1980s, when human rights, religious and womens groups joined together in an unprecedented humanitarian effort to help underage prostitutes, many of whom were Aboriginal girls who had been sold by their impoverished parents.
The first large-scale street protest took place in 1987 under the banner of opposing human trafficking. However, the initial focus of the movement quickly shifted from denouncing violence in human trafficking to condemning the act of buying sex from underage prostitutes, according to Wang Ping (王蘋), secretary-general of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association in Taiwan (GSRAT, 台灣性別人權協會).
“Somewhere along the way, the progressive voices were hushed up by the conservative elements in the moment … The call for self-empowerment faded, and the belief in strict protection prevailed,” Wang says. “Instead of giving children access to sex-related information, they now attempt to block it as a preventive measure to protect them from possible sexual exploitation.”
The Anti-Sexual Business Provisions for Children and Teenagers statute initiated by child-protection groups was put into practice in 1995. To Wang and Josephine Ho (何春蕤), a professor at National Central University’s Center for the Study of Sexuality, it marked the beginning of an intricate web of legal and social measures designed to regulate and discipline the sexuality of Taiwan’s youth.