Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Sex workers protest industry ban

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Protesters burn a photo of President Chen Shui-bian yesterday to mark the 10th anniversary of the abolition of public brothels in Taipei. The decision was made by Chen during his 1994-1998 term as Taipei mayor.

PHOTO: LIU HSIN-DE, TAIPEI TIMES

On the 10th anniversary of the banning of prostitution, around 100 former sex workers and their supporters staged a demonstration in front of the Presidential Office yesterday to demand legalization of the sex industry in Taipei City.

Protesters, who included sex workers, gathered on Ketagelan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office and burned a picture of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

The protesters were stopped by the police as they attempted to march towards the Presidential Office, and a minor scuffle occurred.

During Chen's stint as Taipei mayor, Chen abolished the prostitution licensing system on Sept. 6, 1997.

As Taipei was the only city that had an ordinance to regulate the sex industry, the abolition of the decades-old licensing system therefore put an end to legal prostitution in the country.

Although many people approved of the decision, it has created many problems.

"After prostitution was banned, many of our sisters became illegal workers, because they all have families to feed and they don't know anything else," a former licensed sex worker nicknamed Ching (小青) said.

"Many of them ended up committing suicide because of the enormous economic pressure and the fear of prosecution," she said.

Of the 16 sex workers that the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS) has been tracking for 10 years, three have already committed suicide due to economic pressure and long-term unemployment.

Ching said she herself is NT$3 million (US$90,000) in debt.

For those who turned to illegal prostitution, they have more to fear than the police.

"In the past [when prostitution was legal], we could pick our customers, we could call the police when we had non-paying customers," Ching said. "The regulation even stipulated that we got 70 percent of the revenue while their madams got 30 percent."

However, illegal sex workers today can no longer choose their customers, can do nothing when customers don't pay, and are often exploited by their madams, Ching said.

"They [sex workers] wouldn't hurt anyone, they're only trying to make a living. We'd like to call on the government to legalize the sex industry so they can have a safer and more secure work environment," a COSWAS secretary surnamed Chen said.

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