China’s flourishing sex industry is dangerous and degrading

March 6, 2014 | By | Reply More

Mar 06, – At the White Horse Club, one of Shanghai’s grandest entertainment venues, wealthy women go wild each night, partying with tall, muscular men for whose company they pay. It is at least 800 yuan (HK$1,000) for an evening with each Chinese “model”, or 1,200 yuan for a foreigner, but the party can go on through the night if the women are willing to fork out a few more thousand.

This picture taken late on February 9, 2Guangxi province 2,000 kilometres away, 20 migrant workers queue quietly along a mud path off a construction site in rural Nanning after sunset. In tall bushes a short distance from them, a young woman “services” a client for 50 yuan every 10 minutes as the others wait in line.

“No one will peep. There’s a mutual understanding, like waiting in line for public toilets,” says Yang Chun , a Shanghai-based sex coach. Yang is familiar with the sex trade at the grassroots level from her days volunteering in HIV/Aids prevention programmes in Nanning.

“There’s no shower in the wild. Each girl will serve dozens of men every night, so most of them would have contracted some form of sexually transmitted disease on their outer vaginal region, even if they use the condoms we hand out.”

Because of its large population, China has the most sex workers in the world. But the country’s sex industry operates entirely underground, because the Communist Party-led government bans any kind of sex trade. Experts say the ban – coupled with institutionalised corruption and rampant abuse by police with the power to order detention without trial – makes the working environment of those in the trade much tougher.

Professor Pan Suiming , head of Renmin University’s Institute of Sexuality and Gender, puts the number of China’s sex workers in 2010 at up to two million. The World Health Organisation and a May 2012 report by Human Rights Watch put the number at between four and six million. Other estimates go as high as 20 million, claiming that sex workers contribute as much as 6 per cent of China’s gross domestic product.

The nation’s underground sex industry comprises a wide variety of workers, from the traditional working girls commonly spotted in salons, saunas and nightclubs to high-end gigolos for women, male prostitutes for gay men, and transgendered sex workers.

According to Yang, a popular sex worker in Shanghai charges about 2,000 yuan for a two-hour session, catering to different fetishes. Some trained nurses also join the trade, performing piercings or circumcisions for their clients. Another significant part of the trade is web-based, with girls stripping or men having live sex in front of web cameras.

“Japan might seem to have a more developed sex industry, with a wide spectrum of adult video genres. But the sex industry in China is just as diverse,” Yang says. “Just because Chinese law prohibits the production of adult videos doesn’t mean that people who want them don’t know where to find them.”

Ken, 29, a male prostitute who services men, has been in the trade for five years now. The university graduate charges 400 yuan per session and 600 yuan to spend the night.

“Money boys usually operate from rental apartments, each with three to four bedrooms and managed by a male mamasan [or pimp],” he says. “Some work in health clubs, providing massage services and more. There are about 10 such clubs in Shanghai.”

Many also operate individually, placing ads online and meeting clients in hotels, Ken says. “The apartments are always raided by undercover police. Once arrested, violence to extract a confession is not uncommon.”

Being robbed by clients is another occupational hazard. “I was in the shower once, and the client brought in two men to rob me,” Ken says. “I knew better – I had on me only a cheap phone and enough cash for a taxi home – but they beat me up.”

The young man’s family does not know of his sexual orientation or what he does for a living.

“I had a boyfriend two years ago; we lasted for six months. I’m ready for love, but I won’t give up my life unless I’m driven out of the trade because of age,” he says.

“I’ve seen many money boys marry women back home because of family pressure, but continuing their work in the big cities,” he adds. “But that’s not something I want. I’m happy where I am.”

Guo Ziyang , executive director of Beijing Zouyou Information and Consulting Centre, says his NGO has offered sexual health advice and counselling to almost 4,000 gay and transgendered sex workers since 2007.

“No one knows how many sex workers there are, as they move quickly from one big city to another. The market is huge, so the internet is a popular place for them to look for clients,” he says, adding that it costs 600 to 800 yuan to engage a sex worker in Beijing and 400 yuan in second-tier cities like Chongqing .

In the face of one of the nation’s toughest crackdowns against sex workers in recent months, many saunas and nightclubs have been forced shut. Prostitutes and pimps who used to thrive in Dongguan , commonly known as China’s sex capital, have disappeared overnight since the crackdown began there on February 10 before extending nationwide.

Press journalist for HRO media – Ignacio Damigo contributed to this report.

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Category: International

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