Dongguan to crush sex trade

By Chang Meng Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-11 0:53:01

A three-month crackdown on the sex trade in entertainment venues in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province was announced Tuesday, shortly after a television exposé revealed the extent of the prostitution business in local hotels.

A massive police sweep starting late Sunday focused on bath centers, massage parlors and KTV parlors in the city. After combing through 1,948 entertainment venues, police identified 39 as "problematic," with 162 suspects under investigation, said a Monday statement from Dongguan's public security bureau.

Local police have started to hunt down proprietors of the 12 venues involved in sexual services in five districts that were targeted by CCTV.

One of the hotels was reportedly owned by Liang Yaohui, a deputy to the nation's top legislative body, according to China Radio International Monday.

Eight police officers were suspended as they allegedly failed to respond to informant reports of the sex trade.

Hu Chunhua, Party chief of Guangdong, on Sunday ordered a provincial crackdown on prostitution in the same manner as the anti-drug campaign last year.

The Ministry of Public Security on Sunday dispatched special teams to Dongguan and vowed to punish prostitution organizers and their "protection umbrellas."

Dongguan is a key manufacturing center as well as an entertainment hub, with a prosperous sex industry.

While authorities were quick to react with a heavy-handed clampdown, comments accused the media of sensationalizing the issue. This created an unusual public opinion dynamic which mingled dissatisfaction with CCTV's actions to whether the trade should be legalized.

To many people's surprise, "Hold on Dongguan," a slogan normally seen when natural disasters have affected a locality, appeared in thousands of online posts from Sunday night, including the official account of a division of the Nandu Daily.

Comments supportive of the trade called for legalization and protection of sex workers, as sexual freedom is arguably a human right.

Some online opinion leaders, known as "Big Vs" on Sina Weibo, posted entries, calling CCTV shameful as it used undercover footage showing erotic services provided by sex workers, which "harmed this disadvantaged group."

Critics also said the report was superficial without questioning the root cause behind the trade. The State broadcaster was accused of avoiding probing into serious social problems like illegal labor or corruption, but targeting the easy sex industry.

Chen Guo'en, a professor with Wuhan University, sees the sweep as a part of the anti-graft drive as the high-end escort business is closely intertwined with corruption.

"Accusing the CCTV report of just harming the disadvantaged group [sex workers] shouldn't be used to shift the discussion of the root cause of the trade," he said.

About half of 260,000 respondents to surveys conducted by news portals and said the "hold on" opinion indicates that the public has diverse understandings of the sex industry. However, 40 percent said it is being used to express dissatisfaction with other social issues, such as corruption and inequality.

The supportive comments might reflect the conflict and discrepancy in Chinese society between the public and government, as CCTV is viewed as a symbol of public power and was suppressing disadvantaged groups, in this case, sex workers, said observers.

"Simply equating a free sex trade market to sexual freedom is the underlying reason why people are supporting Dongguan," Lü Xinyu, a journalism professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, wrote on Sina Weibo. "However, the sex trade is a hotbed of slavery and control, and its exploitation of women cannot be solved by a free market."

Lu Weiqi, a deputy director of Dongguan's public security bureau, said the city would make strategies to better regulate the entertainment industry, which earned support from many who consider prostitution, especially high-end services, has bred  various problems which have distorted values.

Experts noted that China should explore regulating the industry under a legal framework without ideology. The key is punishing organizers and those who protect them, instead of targeting sex workers at the bottom of the chain.

Decriminalization might be better than full legalization and introducing tax levies or work protection to manage the industry could be a solution,  Peng Xiaohui, a sexologist with Central China Normal University in Wuhan, told the Global Times.

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