Sex work and the vagaries of Hong Kong law
Although prostitutes have the same legal rights as anyone else, they are vulnerable to abuse from clients and the police
Sex workers are entitled to the same human rights as anyone living in Hong Kong. If they are arrested, they have the right to be informed why and under what law they are being held. If the police officer refuses to provide this, then the arrest may be regarded as unlawful.
Anyone arrested in the city also has the right to legal representation and the right to remain silent during interviews. According to Zi Teng, migrant sex workers are particularly vulnerable to both physical and verbal abuse because they may not know their rights in local law.
After they are arrested, they might be blocked from making a phone call and asking for a lawyer’s assistance, denied food and water and prevented from using the toilet. They might also be subjected to physical violence, forced to carry out sexual services, intimidated by foul language and forced to sign statements admitting offences they have not committed.
Zi Teng compiled reports of 28 different types of abuse by clients and police officers last year. The most common abuse by the police was arbitrary arrest, which the non-profit organisation defines as when a sex worker is arrested or taken to a police station without having committed any crime.
Sex workers might also be abused by their clients. The most common abuse reported to Zi Teng this year was theft. Clients also abused sex workers by refusing to pay them for a service they have carried out. Other abuses might be removing a condom during sexual intercourse, impersonating a police officer in order to avoid payment and making threats of violence.
Sex workers are not protected by the labour laws of Hong Kong, so although they may agree a price for a service, they would find it very difficult to seek compensation over any commercial dispute.
Providing sexual services for money is legal in Hong Kong, but soliciting for sex publicly on the street is illegal and convicted offenders face a fine of HK$10,000 and six months in prison. But there must be evidence that the sex worker initiated the transaction.
It is also illegal for foreign passport holders to participate in any activity with monetary reward, including sex work, without a work permit.