The Ministry of the Interior’s (MOI) announcement on Friday that it plans to decriminalize the sex industry drew a mixed reaction from civic groups yesterday.
The announcement came after the Council of Grand Justices released Constitutional Interpretation No. 666 on Friday declaring Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), which imposes penalties on prostitutes, but not clients, unconstitutional.
Afterwards, Deputy Interior Minister Chien Tai-lang (簡太郎) said that the MOI would work toward decriminalizing the sex industry.
The interpretation stated that imposing penalties on sex workers but not their clients was in violation of the principle of equality stated in Article 7 of the Constitution.
A sex transaction must be completed with the party who sells the service and the other party who pays for it, hence the two sides should share the same legal burden, the interpretation said.
“Since most people intending to obtain [financial] gains are female, the law seems to mostly target women involved in the trade and impose penalties on them,” the interpretation said. “For women forced into the trade because of their economically disadvantaged conditions, such penalties only worsen the situation for them.”
Chien responded to the interpretation on Friday evening, saying: “The MOI will follow the conclusions from a meeting of the [Executive Yuan’s] Human Rights Protection and Promotion Committee in June to work on laws and measures to decriminalize the sex industry while also gathering input from sex workers.”
While completely decriminalizing the sex industry is the MOI’s long-term objective, Chien added that the ministry would take certain measures to loosen restrictions on sex workers before the law is revised.
He added it had not been decided whether red light districts should be created, but the ministry was inclined to leave that decision to local governments and councils.
“The ministry will continue to implement the policy to exclude enforcing Article 80 from police officers’ performance review; we will urge the judiciary to impose a lesser fine on prostitutes instead of detaining them; we will also put more effort into cracking down on human trafficking,” Chien said.
Chien’s remarks marked the first time that the MOI has clearly stated its position on decriminalizing the sex industry.
“The MOI has overinterpreted the interpretation,” Garden of Hope Foundation executive director Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容) told the Taipei Times via telephone. “The Council of Grand Justices only declared the article unconstitutional because it endorses inequality, but the Grand Justices did not say if penalties should be lifted.”
Chi said the sex industry exploits women and whether it should be legalized is still highly controversial.
“A consensus should be reached in society first, and I’d think a referendum on the issue would be valid — the MOI should not be too eager to declare its position,” she said.
Awakening Foundation secretary-general Tseng Chao-yuan (曾昭媛) welcomed both the interpretation and the ministry’s announcement.
“Of course we welcome the MOI’s announcement and support decriminalizing the sex industry because the current law is repression of economically disadvantaged women forced into prostitution when only sex workers, not clients, are punished,” Tseng said.
Tseng also voiced opposition to red light districts, worrying that it may mean punishing both sex workers and clients outside of the districts.
The Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters executive director Chung Chun-chu (鍾君竺) also supported the move, but said it wasn’t the end of the battle because the Council of Grand Justices did not clarify whether the sex industry should be decriminalized.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said Taipei was not suitable for a red light district.
“Every place is different. As for Taipei, I don’t think it’s suitable to set up a special district [for the sex industry] and I think Taipei City residents would oppose such a district,” he said.