Dozens of sex workers and their supporters demonstrated outside the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday, urging it to declare its stance on the decriminalization of the sex industry.
A citizens’ conference organized by the Executive Yuan in November recommended that the sex industry be decriminalized and that penalties for both sex workers and their customers be lifted.
Although President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised during the presidential campaign that the legalization of the sex industry would be based on the conclusion of the conference, the MOI did not declare its stance on the issue, saying that more discussion was needed.
“So another forum was held by the MOI itself in January, and most of the participants also supported legalizing the sex industry,” Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters director Chien Chia-ying (簡嘉瑩) said. “Yet the MOI still said that it needed more time to look into it.”
“We repeatedly asked the MOI whether they had reached any conclusions during the past four months, but the answer has always been ‘we’re looking into it.’ when will we ever see the final outcome?” Chien asked.
As the government continues to “look into the issue,” prostitutes continue to get arrested.
“In the 17 years after the sex industry was completely outlawed, more than 70,000 sex workers have been arrested and the total amount of fines they have paid adds up to between NT$70 million and NT$100 million,” she said. “This is the hard-earned money of people who live in poverty.”
A sex worker in her 40s who wished to be known only as Miko said that, unable to find a job, prostitution was the only thing she could do to raise her children.
“I was treated just like any other worker when I worked as a sex worker in countries where prostitution was legal — it’s ironic that I am treated as a criminal in my own country,” Miko said. “I’m not a criminal — I don’t rob, I don’t steal, I work hard to make a living and it’s the government that’s making me suffer.”
After protesters shouted for about 30 minutes, MOI Social Affairs Department specialist Chiang Kuo-jen (江國仁) came out to meet them.
“We already have a conclusion, but I can’t give it to you now because it still needs approval from the minister. But we will submit it to the Cabinet as a recommendation soon,” Chiang told the demonstrators.
However, Chiang’s response drew more protests from the demonstrators, who dismissed it as just another excuse to postpone the decision.
After verbal disputes, Chiang finally promised that the MOI would announce its decision on May 18.
“If we still don’t get a positive response by that day, we will come back and we may force our way into [the MOI],” Chien said.