Fetish Fashion struck a blow for tolerant society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2005, 12:00am

It is the end of an era - at least for some sexually intrepid Hongkongers. After 11 years, Hong Kong's most famous sex shop, Fetish Fashion, will close its doors next month.

For many, its demise will probably go unnoticed. Nevertheless, the disappearance of the establishment will be a loss for a city eager to project an open and cosmopolitan image to the outside world.

The small retailer near the Central-Mid-Levels escalator specialises in the sexual subculture of BDSM (bondage, discipline and sadomasochism) - considered by many to be lewd - selling various toys and paraphernalia associated with it. It also rents out two dungeon-like 'play rooms' by the hour.

Four years ago, Fetish Fashion came under the spotlight when police raided one of its closed-door parties. Twenty-six people, including the owner, Brenda Scofield (aka Decima), her husband and a shop manager were arrested.

The subsequent trial of the three proprietors was the talk of the town. More so than the obvious voyeuristic interest, people seemed particularly amused by the prudish attitudes guiding the actions of our law-enforcement officials.

Even though Hong Kong tolerates all kinds of sex-related trade, police decided to mount a long and elaborate undercover operation against the tiny BDSM outfit. But there was no specific law banning this form of sexual practice to prosecute the defendants. So they were charged under an obscure 18th-century British parliamentary act against keeping a disorderly house and conducting an objectionable performance.

The magistrate rightly saw the absurdity of the prosecution and acquitted all three defendants and ordered the prosecution to pay $3 million in defence costs. He said there was nothing illegal about consenting adults engaging in sexual role playing that did not cause any physical harm.

Imagine the racket had the authorities won their case. Participants of BDSM activities would have been driven further underground, engendering an atmosphere of puritanical sexual correctness. Who knows? Even Singaporeans might have sent their sympathies to us.

Hong Kong and Fetish Fashion escaped such a fate. But the sex shop is now falling victim to a more familiar threat in our city.

Ms Scofield says a big jump in rent is one reason she is giving up the business, which was never profitable. Hopefully, though, Hong Kong will never run out of the kind of original entrepreneurial spirit she has shown.

She plans to carry on her mission to educate people about different kinds of sexuality as a lecturer and counsellor. Frank discussions about such topics are welcomed in mature and sophisticated societies. We hope she will find that it is no different in Hong Kong.