Several sex worker advocacy groups yesterday staged a protest in front of the Ministry of the Interior, demanding that the government decriminalize prostitution and enact a new law to protect the right to sex among consenting adults.
Wearing face masks and red headbands with slogans that read “Legalize the sex industry,” protesters from the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan and Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association called on the government to heed the needs of the minorities by abolishing Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), which stipulates that any one intending to profit through performance of a sexual act is subject to a three-day detention or fine of up to NT$30,000.
“Sex workers are victims of the bad economy. We are pleading with the government to take care of us — the minority who are struggling to stay afloat,” COSWAS secretary Chian Chia-ying (簡嘉瑩) said.
Chian said the government should follow the trend of many developed countries by legalizing prostitution and not penalizing sex workers and their patrons.
Instead of continuing to ignore their plight, the government should protect their right to work in a clean and safe environment, the protesters said.
They proposed a new law to legitimize sex as a form of trade among consenting adults, saying such a law would protect the rights of sex workers and remove the public stigma attached to the industry.
The ministry held a public hearing on the issue of problems faced by sex workers yesterday morning. No resolution was reached, but a ministry official promised that the issue would be further discussed after the legislative recess.
In September 1997, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), then mayor of Taipei, banned brothels, which had been legal in the city, in an effort to curb the growing sex trade.
COSWAS said that decision had devastated the lives of many sex workers, who had no other way to make a living. Forced to continue working illegally, the workers lost all legal options for recourse if they were hurt or cheated by customers, it said.
Before the clampdown, prostitutes could charge customers between NT$800 and NT$1,000 for 15 minutes and could demand their customers wear condoms or else refuse to have sex with them.
After the crackdown, working conditions have deteriorated drastically, COSWAS said, with most prostitution rings controlled by organized crime.
In 1999, when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) became mayor of Taipei, he granted a two-year grace period for the remaining brothels to close shop.