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Crackdown on sex industry sparks heated debate

  • Source: Global Times
  • [21:46 August 18 2010]
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Wang Dawei

Editor's Notes:

China has launched a new crackdown on the sex industry since this April. What is its possible effect? What problems has the campaign caused? Beijing-based Global People magazine (GP) reporters Liu Ya and Bao Tong talked to Li Yinhe (Li), China's most prominent sexologist and a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Wang Dawei (Wang), a professor at Chinese People's Public Security University, on their very different views on these issues.

GP: What is your opinion on the campaign? How many sex workers are there in China?

Li: I haven't done any research on the demographics of sex workers. As for the population of them, the estimation varies among scholars.

Some researchers suggest that over 3 million work as prostitutes or sex workers, most of whom are from rural areas. I think the problem of prostitutes is first of all a problem of poverty.

Wang: Sex industry is an centuries-old industry. Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, the government has made many efforts to eliminate this business. We were once able to do this well.

GP: The government was able to drive the entire sex industry out of business soon after the founding of the PRC. Why can't it do the same now?

Li: I think society at that time was abnormal. Given that our society is pretty normal at present, I think the experiences of 60 years ago may not apply now.

There are two reasons why anti-prostitution policies were successful 60 years ago. First, economically at that time people were equally poor and could not afford to spend money on sex. Second, the political and moral pressure institutionalized ordinary people.

Wang: The new Chinese government at that time managed successfully. It closed brothels and offered education and healthcare service for prostitutes. The progressive measures worked pretty well.

GP: Are crackdowns an effective means of dealing with prostitution?

Wang: Absolutely. The Chinese phrase "Pornography, gambling and drugs" coherently describe the inter-connection between those dirty businesses. Prostitutes make money to buy drugs. Sometimes local organized gangs also have connection with the sex industry.

In criminology, we often talk about the transformation of crimes. For example, at a time of intensive crackdowns, sex workers may develop their business by text message rather than face-to-face at a fixed place. Therefore the fight against prostitution must be carried out in conjunction with other police activities.

GP: Can you anticipate the effect?

Li: It may not be impressive. Actually this is not the first time that we have a "determined" crackdown. Every seven or eight months we have one. Of course we have to admit that this time the determination is greater.

Wang: This time the situation is different. It is unnecessary to become a pessimist.

Despite the complexity of the sex industry, objectives can be achieved if we stick to our policy, which is crackdown, prevention and management. I think things will become better afterward.

GP: Why is the sex industry harmful? Is it merely a matter of morality?

Li: We must be realistic. Prostitution has two effects. Since it is a product of the existing sexual needs, it provides clients with satisfaction and service.

According to a survey in 2006, 57 percent of rapists were migrant workers. The sex industry satisfies their needs and benefits social stability. But such business also discourages some women from finding legal jobs.

Wang: Prostitution is a dirty and negative side of social life. Most people feel uneasy about or even hate prostitution. It is against morality and spreads venereal diseases or even HIV. Therefore, prostitution is bad for social psychology.

GP: Why do the campaigns only seem to have a temporary effect?

Li: It is because of the existing interests in this business and people's sexual demands.

Wang: The first reason is social. Sometimes it has been a tacit commercial arrangement to go to places for adult entertainment. Second, it is about morality. Marital fidelity is regarded less important nowadays. The third is people's sexual needs. Given the massive flow of population, the scale of prostitution must have grown considerably.

GP: What about the parading of prostitutes in the streets?

Li: This is outrageous. Prostitutes have human rights that should be respected. If a society considers itself civilized, it should not condone this.

I think the central government should ban the parade explicitly.

GP: What should the government do after the campaign?

Li: I think the government should open schools for those uneducated women to teach them skills. Crackdowns cannot work in the long term.

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