Statement on the 17th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Today is the 17th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Every year, sex workers organizations all over the world carry out different types of activities to increase public concern on sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, and to urge the society to eliminate discrimination against sex workers. During 2019, we collected complaints from more than 800 sex workers, who were violently treated by different people such as police officers, customers and brothel owners.

Sex workers are often vulnerable to violence and crime. Not only because their freedom and choice are greatly limited by the law in Hong Kong, that they can hardly use their own solutions to cope with these situations, it is also related to the police. On one hand, some frontline police officers may abuse their power to suppress sex workers. On the other hand, when sex workers face violence and crime, they often think that the police will not accept their case. Police officers may even tease them or have a bias. They therefore tend to tolerate but not report their case, become more vulnerable to crime and violence.

Since June, Hong Kong police repeatedly clashed with other Hong Kong citizens. We began to see how sex workers changed their attitudes towards police from distrust to fear. Some are more determined not to call the police for the reason that the police are busy with the public activities and have no time to investigate their case. In fact, the complaints about police officers we collected from sex workers also dropped in the latter half of the year. This may probably because most police force is deployed to deal with public activities. It is even difficult for sex workers to find one police officer on the streets.

The law gives the police the power to fight against crime and to protect people’s life and property. Citizens therefore call the police when they are in trouble. If sex workers refuse to report to police for fear or believe that the police will not spend time on their case, it loses the meaning for the police to fight against crime. Sex workers will become more vulnerable and further be targeted by bad guys and criminals.

Sex workers call the police for help, provide crime information for the police, then the police investigate, collect more useful information, arrest the lawbreakers, and increase sex workers’ awareness through education. This is the ideal mode for sex workers to cooperate with the police. Just like other citizens, if sex workers cooperate with police, it is more probable to prevent and combat crime. If citizens are reluctant to provide crime information, or the police are inactive to execute their duties, only harms will be resulted in the society.

As a conclusion, we appeal to the police to seriously handle the cases of sex workers and remain impartial. The police management should also review the performances of its officers, and penalize those who break the law or code of conduct. At the same time, an independent complaint system should be developed. Investigating police officers by other police officers should stop so as to increase the trust in police of sex workers and other citizens. Only when there is genuine police-public cooperation and mutual trust, we have the most effective crime prevention and fight crime activities.

Number of cases where sex workers in Hong Kong face violence (2019)

Police violence / abuse Client / criminal violence Boss violence
Free sexual service9 cases Intimidation2 cases Harassment1 case
Free massage service before arrest18 cases Theft71 cases Verbal threat1 case
Obstructing the course of justice5 cases Physical assault18 cases
Force/coax into signing the statement8 cases Denial of payment29 cases
Verbal threat and insult12 cases Candid camera174 cases
Being deprived of basic rights3 cases Condom removed4 cases
Indecent assault2 cases Counterfeit note30 cases
Neglect of duty4 cases Robbery16 cases
police break into house without warrant55 cases Telephone harassment1 case
Arbitrary arrest298 cases Police Imposter35 cases
Unnecessary use of authority1 case Triad threats and harassment5 cases
Deprived of Basic rights1 case Rape1 case

Zi Teng
Sex workers concern group
17 December 2019