A proposal by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday to create red light districts where the sex trade would be legal sparked debate among civic groups.
The proposal, made at a preparatory meeting ahead of the Executive Yuan’s Human Rights Protection and Promotion Committee meeting, could be endorsed when the committee convenes later this month.
The MOI proposed decriminalization of the sex industry through setting up red light districts after holding several citizens’ conferences on the subject over the last year.
Although the proposal is still far from being a done deal, and requires legislative approval, several women’s groups slammed the ministry at a joint press conference in Taipei.
“The sex industry is about hurting and exploiting disadvantaged women,” said Garden of Hope Foundation executive director Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容). “Sure you can find women who ‘chose’ to become prostitutes, but they often did so because they didn’t have any other choices.”
“The Garden of Hope has interviewed numerous prostitutes, and they all told us that they would have picked another trade if they’d had any other choice, not to mention those who were forced into it,” she said.
Citing figures released by the EU, Chi said that between 92 percent and 95 percent of women in the sex industry said they want to quit.
“Prostitutes don’t make money — it’s the human traffickers, pimps and their bosses who make the money,” she said.
Instead of allowing economically disadvantaged women to work in the sex industry, Chi said that the government should come up with more policies to increase welfare and employment opportunities for women.
Taiwan Women’s Link secretary-general Tsai Wan-fen (蔡宛芬) cited examples from other countries showing that legalizing the sex industry would not solve sex exploitation and human trafficking.
“In red light districts in the Netherlands, more than 50 percent of sex workers say they are often threatened, beaten or even raped by pimps or customers,” Tsai said. “The Dutch police just discovered the largest human trafficking group in its history last year.”
Tsai added that the Amsterdam City Government was “considering shrinking the size of the red light district” because it realized that it had become a center for human trafficking, sex exploitation and money laundering.
On the other hand, Sex Workers and Supporters Collective member Chien Chia-ying (簡嘉瑩) said that no one should pretend that the sex industry does not exist.
“The sex trade has always been there and still will be there whether it’s legal or not,” Chien told the Taipei Times via telephone. “By making the industry legal, the government can regulate it and reduce the possibility of exploitation.”
“In all trades and businesses, there are people who act illegally, but that’s not a reason to outlaw the entire industry,” she said.
Earlier at the meeting, Huang Bi-hsia (黃碧霞), director of the Department of Social Affairs of the MOI, briefed the attendees on the ministry’s position.
Research, Development and Evaluation Commission Deputy Minister Sung Yu-hsieh (宋餘俠) quoted the MOI’s assessment report on the issue at the meeting, saying that establishing a red light district was one option to effectively manage prostitution.
Sung said that those at the meeting, including academics and officials from the National Policy Agency, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all agreed to decriminalize consensual sex between adults, but were at odds on whether to set up red light districts.
Under current regulations governing sexual transactions in Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), prostitutes can be detained for a maximum of three days and fined up to NT$30,000.
Law enforcement authorities also have the power to send prostitutes to correctional institutions for a period of six to 12 months.
Customers, however, are not subject to any punishment under current rules and regulations.
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