Worldwide study 'backs legalising sex trade'
Agnes Lam and Martin Wong
We'll pay tax if our work is legal, say prostitutes
Hong Kong should legalise the sex trade but not set up a red-light district, according to the preliminary findings of a three-year study on prostitution businesses in the city and around the globe.
Zi Teng, a sex workers' concern group that commissioned the study, noted that the demand for sex services would not disappear and that sex workers were willing to pay tax within a regulated industry.
'Therefore, the government might as well legalise it and regulate it like other trades such as catering,' said Elaine Lam Yee-ling, spokeswoman for the group.
Zi Teng said it commissioned a British group in 2005 to research how the industry was regulated on the mainland, in Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries.
Preliminary results of the research will be released later this year, but Ms Lam said they would show that legalising the sex trade seemed to be the best path for the city.
'Problems are less complicated in countries where prostitution is legal, as police no longer have to make efforts to crack down on the trade,' she said. 'The administration just has to regulate the sex trade according to other ordinances such as fire safety or hygiene.'
The study also found that setting up a red-light district was not an acceptable option for the city, as sex was still considered a taboo subject and the general public could not accept such an idea.
'It would be difficult to find a place to locate a red-light district, as there would surely be strong objections from district councils and residents in the area.'
The group said sex workers were willing to be regulated as other trades and to pay tax.
'Sex workers have no problems about paying tax if they can be treated as other normal taxpayers who enjoy protection and respect in society,' Ms Lam said.
'The government should devote some resources to educate the public that sex workers are no different from other workers and that they should not be discriminated against because of what they do for a living.'
Private data of sex workers' clients would not be revealed if sex workers had to submit information when filling out tax forms, she said.
'I think even if the Inland Revenue Department wanted to check on their business, it would not be a problem,' she said. 'The department only has to know the number of clients and the amount of money involved. Clients' names and mobile phone numbers should not be disclosed.'
Ms Lam said prostitution might be similar to working in other freelance jobs. 'If there is a way for hawkers and freelancers to pay tax, then there can be a way for sex workers to do so. Sex workers can also provide information such as how much they spend on buying condoms and how many clients they have each day.'
However, Bernard Wu Tak-lung, vice-president of the Taxation Institute, said that in fact all sex workers currently were liable for profits tax anyway and should be registered as businesses, as that is what they are running.
'As long as they are operating a business and making money out of it, they have to pay profits tax, but most of them do not register as businesses, and it is difficult to find them and collect information about these one-woman brothels,' Mr Wu said.
Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said it was wrong to establish a link between legalising the sex industry and offering protection to sex workers.
'There is no connection between them,' she said. 'Yes, we should look into ways to offer more protection to sex workers, but that doesn't mean we have to legalise the trade to do it.'