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Giving it away
Global Times | June 01, 2012 00:10
By Lin Meilian
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Ye Haiyan poses in a brothel.
Ye Haiyan poses in a brothel. Photos: Courtesy of Ye Haiyan


No stranger to controversy

Ye, a former waitress at a KTV bar and a divorced single mother, has been a no stranger to controversy ever since she posted her naked photos online to show her support for sex workers in 2005.

After being kicked out from other online forums, she set up her own website to raise awareness of the hardship that low-paid sex workers are facing. The website was later closed due to public pressure.

In 2006, she opened Chinese Women's Rights Workshop in her hometown of Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, to distribute condoms and AIDS-prevention pamphlets to brothels. However she later found out many sex workers were reluctant to use condoms for fear they would be taken as evidence of prostitution. The office was later closed in 2009 due to pressure from local authorities and lack of funding.

Then she made a big move. The first time she became a sex worker was in 2009 when she was investigating the online part-time sex trade. She served about six people in a month and earned 1,500 yuan.

"It took a lot of courage," she recalled. "Then I asked myself, if they can do it to make a living, why can't I? I need to feel their pain and suffering."

Many people think her behavior is "crazy and immoral." Some support her work in general but have mixed feelings about her decision to experience it herself. But she seems determined.

"My biggest dream is to work as a prostitute in a country where the sex trade is legal. Then I can feel proud of my job and serve my customers happily," she said.

Her dream seems to be moving a little bit closer. The Ministry of Public Security banned "shame parades" after pictures of barefoot, handcuffed sex workers being led by a rope in Guangdong Province enraged Internet users in 2010.

A week after of the ban, she organized a rally in Wuhan to advocate the oldest profession. Along with the volunteers, they launched a petition on the street, asking onlookers to sign up for ending discrimination against sex workers.

The campaign did not bring the end of discrimination, but the end of her workshop. She said after being detained by the police for a few days, her workshop was asked to move out of Wuhan.

A year later, in August 2011, she relocated her new workshop in Guangxi's "red light area," right across the street full of hair salons and massage places. She said it is mainly funded by Internet users and her volunteers are mainly sex workers who work nearby.

Speaking during an earlier interview with the Global Times, Ye said it is not uncommon for sex workers to be physically and verbally abused, so she wants to help build their dignity by telling the women that their work contributes to society.

"Thank you for your contribution in relieving social conflicts and reducing sexual assaults. Thank you for caring for migrant workers and sex addicts. Thanks to your courage in a harsh work environment, you have boosted the recreational industry and enhanced the country's GDP," she said.

When asked about her own relationship, Ye said many Chinese men find it hard to accept her.

"I might not be wife material. And I am not getting married again until the government lifts the fines for women or migrant workers involved in the sex trade, and stops notifying sex workers' families about the fine, "she said.

Nevertheless, she once blogged about having five husbands. Now she has lowered her boundary to just one "house husband for a year."

"You won't regret being my man. But there is only one condition, you have to be a great good man," she wrote.

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