Zi Teng, a sex worker-led organisation in Hong Kong, has marked International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, which falls each year on 17th December.
In a statement released on their website, Zi Teng brought attention to several cases over the past year, where sex workers stood up for their rights in courts. In one case a man who raped and robbed a sex worker was sentenced to 11-year imprisonment. In another case, a man was charged for blackmail and sent to prison for 10 months for demanding a sex worker pay him HK$10,000 (about US$1,280) to avoid him telling her family about her work and posting nude photos of her online.
Zi Teng say these cases show that sex workers are not weak and can stand up against violence when the system supports them to do so.
But police attitudes still play an influential role in determining whether sex workers are able to report crimes against them, and this ultimately continues to impact on sex workers’ ability to fight violence against them and receive justice. “...If the police are indifferent to the crime information, and even worse, they let those who hurt sex workers go, or ‘recommend’ sex workers to drop the case they are simply encouraging the bad guys to use sex workers to release pressure or to treat sex workers as Automatic Teller Machine[s]” said the statement.
Zi Teng has been recording a range of complaints and crimes committed against sex workers in Hong Kong for several years, including from police. On December 17 they released the latest figures, which showed incidence of denial of payment, theft and non-consensual filming from clients. The figures also capture abuse from law enforcement, including 142 cases of arbitrary arrests of sex workers, obstruction of justice, and coerced sex from sex workers by the police (“free sexual service”).
During 2017, Zi Teng heard from a much higher number of sex workers who had experienced police officers neglecting their duties by refusing to handle their case.
The sex workers concern group explained their expectations that the police perform their duties and ensure frontline officers provide substantial support and take sex workers reports of crime seriously. The crimes committed against sex workers should be dealt with, they said, and there should not be actions taken to force sex workers to withdraw their cases.
Sex workers pointed out that police must take a proactive role in ensuring police discipline is maintained. The misuse of power or reckless handling of a case by any police officer must also be addressed and penalised for public confidence to be rebuilt in the police force.