“[The US] has been pressuring the National Immigration Agency, warning that if Taiwan legalizes red light districts, it would become a hub for sex workers from Southeast Asia,” foundation chief executive officer Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容) said.
The foundation is in favor of the Swedish model, which decriminalizes sex workers, but heavily penalizes patrons — up to a maximum of six months in prison — Chi said.
Swedish prostitution laws have proven to be effective in reducing the size of the industry, Chi said, adding that it has also reduced instances of sex trafficking.
Her group does not support the establishment of red light districts because doing so does not follow international trends, she said.
The Netherlands, for instance, plans to gradually shut down a quarter of the shops in Amsterdam’s red light district by next year, while Rotterdam plans to shut down its district completely, because they have found a lot of the workers in the zones are victims of trafficking, Chi said.
She said that Australia’s prostitution laws probably would not work in Taiwan because of the overt conservative attitude of Taiwanese toward sex and the lack of support for red light districts being set up in residential neighborhoods.
“A recent survey conducted by the government showed that 75 percent of Taiwanese support the sex industry, but when it comes to setting up red light districts in their neighborhoods, 100 percent said ‘no,’” Chi said.
Despite supporting different approaches to decriminalizing prostitutes, both COSWAS and the foundation agree that a main reason why many women wind up in the industry is because of economic need: Most of them are from socially disadvantaged families burdened with debt.
“The problem with the sex industry is it is based on structural inequalities,” Chi said. “Many sex workers might have been physically abused at home, economically disadvantaged or come from single-parent families. They might have learning difficulties and were expelled from school and when they enter the job market, they end up in the adult entertainment sector because they do not have any professional skills.”
Women from these socially disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely than others to be pressured into working in the sex industry, she said. Since they have little choice in entering this industry, they should not be criminalized, she added.
Chi said the foundation hopes to reduce the scale of the sex industry by providing an exit strategy for these women.
However, many social support applications restrict the type of people who can apply, discriminating against young single mothers. There are no educational subsidies for these young girls, giving them few options but to work in the sex industry, Chi said.
Two to three decades ago, many sex workers in Taiwan were girls from economically disadvantaged Aboriginal tribes, Chi said.
Their families were tricked into thinking their children were going to get jobs and signed contracts to sell their children for about NT$300,000, she said.