Many of the images circulating last week from the December 17th rallies commemorating the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers included photos of mask-wearing Chinese sex workers in Paris’ Belleville district. Many of the group were from a new organisation named Steel Roses – the rose symbolisesfemininity, and steel, strength -- set up to advocate for the rights of sex workers from the northern Chinese region of Dongbei who work in Belleville.
Chinese sex workers make up the largest group of migrant sex workers in France, and as the recent trial of Tarek Shaban Bin Ziaed, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of a sex worker, Yuan’é Hu, highlighted, they are particularly vulnerable to violence. Migrant sex workers in France cannot report abuse without the fear of criminalisation and deportation.
Speaking to Les Inrocks, Ajing, the president, said that the organisation was formed: "to protect and defend our rights and fight against discrimination and violence. We want to create more solidarity among sex workers in our community and we also want to commemorate our sisters who have died through violence."
"The problemis that we fear the police so we dare not complain. In China, if there’s a problem, you call the police. Here we say of: in case of problems, you just have to get by yourself. All this has to do with violence because attackers know that we are afraid of the police. This is the world upside down. One day, during a period when I had papers, I brought a client and he would not pay me. He tried to rape me. He pulled out his phone and threatened to call the police. As I was speaking, I was in a strong position, I told him it was me who was going to call the police. He left. But today I do not have papers. I do not know if I could handle the situation if it happened again. "
Les Inrocks’ story sbout Steel Roses says that the workers average 42 years of age and often come to Paris to work as nannies, where they find themselves working seven days a week for 400 euros a month with no papers, no French and no other opportunities Some, the article says, make the decision to go "down to the sea" (Xia hai), meaning to make the move to work for themselves.
“To work in France with a tourist visa, they had to pay between 8,000 and 12, 000 euros to their smugglers and so owe money to family or acquaintances. But when they find themselves on the pavement, they are mostly independent. “
The recently established Lotus Bus , a project from Médecins du monde that provides free health services to Chinese sex workers in Paris, has found that knowledge about HIV and STDs is low and that the workers are isolated and do not know their rights.
As well as health resources and education, the Lotus Bus runs workshops, including one last year on the possibility of France criminalising clients.
"The majority did not understand,” Said Tim Leicester from Lotus Bus. “We tried to explain the law, and the fact that those who wrote it said sex should not be monetized. But it is far from their reality, they said to us: “But what do they want? That we work for free?””
Although France rejected the criminalisation of clients, the publicity increased pressure on sex workers and so some went to work in the middle of the night to avoid the police, and some to accept customers they would usually decline.
Another effect of the threat of criminalisation is that many women have migrated to the Internet where, because they do not write French, they need to use third parities to manage their advertisements and payments, and who then take 50 percent of their income.
While Lotus Bus supports the Chinese sex workers, they say they can speak for themselves. Steel Roses have organised demonstrations and flashmobs, and in the spring wrote a letter to protest against arrests, which was translated by the Lotus Bus team and signed by 200 women and sent to the town halls and police stations in the district.
Though still in its early days, the women of Steel Roses are enthusiastic and determined. "We need a structure to speak.” Said Ajing. “We also want to establish a dialogue with residents to create the least amount of problems. But it takes time. "
The full article at Les Inrocks (in French)