Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Experts disagree over punishing prostitutes' clients

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Several women's groups were at odds yesterday over decriminalizing prostitution.

Although representatives from three groups attending a Taipei forum agreed that women should not be prosecuted for selling sex, they disagreed over punishing prostitutes' clients and procurers.

The meeting got off on the wrong foot when Chang Chueh (張玨), an associate professor at National Taiwan University's Institute of Health Policy and Management, objected to the presence of video cameras.

"It's an issue of personal privacy. How do we know the footage won't be misused?" Chang asked.

But other attendees approved of the videotaping.

"This meeting deserves to be recorded," said Liu Hui-chin (劉惠琴), a psychology professor at Soochow University.

"We shouldn't punish the exploited," said Gao Hsiao-fan (高小帆) of the Women's Rescue Foundation of Taipei. "However, this does not mean we approve of the full decriminalization of the sex trade."

"If we legalize it, demand will increase. We will see a sharp increase in foreign sex-workers. What will happen if Taiwan becomes a sex-tourism destination?" Gao asked.

Her organization believes that prostitutes caught selling sex should not be punished, but their clients should be fined and forced to attend re-education classes. It also believes that procurers should face severe penalties.

Tseng Chao-yuan (曾昭媛) of the Awakening Foundation, acknowledged the issue is divisive even within her organization.

"The sex trade is a complicated phenomenon. You can find exploitation, but you can also find people working for themselves," Tseng said.

"We agree that the sex workers should not be punished directly. Maybe a consumer tax can be levied to ameliorate the social costs of prostitution. However, procurers should be punished -- nobody should be able to decide how much your body is worth and then take the profits," she said.

Wan Fan-ping (王芳萍) of the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), disagreed.

"The madam is like the boss in any other field -- there are people who are good and people who are horrible to their workers," she said.

When asked about the possible influx of foreign sex-workers if prostitution was legalized, Wan said they "are here now."

"The more we push the sex trade underground, the more power we give to the middlemen, the snakeheads. We should decriminalize, then decide how many, if any, foreign sex workers we will allow to work to Taiwan as we do for other foreign workers," Wan said.

Although COSWAS supports the eventual decriminalization of the sex trade, Wan said: "Changing the law is a dynamic process. We are willing to compromise in the short term."

Weng Hui-chen (翁彗真), from the Formosa Lily Social Worker's Office, stressed the importance of a united front on the issue.

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