PROSTITUTION should be licensed and taxed to protect prostitutes from triads and a growing Southeast Asian trade in women, according to academics. Hongkong University sociology lecturer Dr Carol Jones and Macau-based anthropologist Mrs Jesusita Sodusta said licensing and taxing would provide a monitoring system to help police track organised crime and health authorities tackle AIDS. It could also help ensure women were not forced to become or remain prostitutes and provide a health assurance for clients. Mrs Sodusta, a private research consultant who worked as an academic for more than 10 years in Hongkong and the Philippines, said triad control over prostitution could be greater than apparent. She said some Filipinas had been prostitutes at home and others entered the profession once they got here to ''earn money for more luxuries''. ''They pose as helpers and work part-time in Mongkok,'' Mrs Sodusta said. However, others were ''asked to come to Hongkong and work as babysitters, but found out they had to work in the trade against their will'', she said. She said church organisations had been helping some women return home. ''There is not much point trying to resettle them here after they are rescued from the triads because they would simply be risking life and limb,'' Mrs Sodusta said. ''About two months ago some nuns escorted a young woman to the airport, where two men came and demanded she go back with them. The sisters were firm and helped the woman on to the plane.'' Sometimes the nuns worked with police, but the priority usually was ''to get the women a ticket back to the Philippines'', Mrs Sodusta said. Sister Ann Gray, of the Missionary Sisters of St Columbia, said she had been amazed at the number of individuals, migrant workers and church groups who had expressed concern about the issue in recent months and started networking. ''People question how much freedom there really is within prostitution in Hongkong or whether there is a lot of coercion,'' Sister Ann said. Mrs Sodusta said women had a right to earn money as they chose, but if they chose prostitution they should accept monitoring, which would ''provide health, legal and security protection''. She and Dr Jones both said a monitoring system should include licensing and taxation. ''Everyone else pays tax so why not them?'' Mrs Sodusta said. ''Taxation could be a way of keeping track of triads because it would show who owns and controls the most business and who is doing what.'' Dr Jones started research with two post-graduate students to interview prostitutes throughout the territory earlier this year. ''We need to tighten it up, legalise it and then tax them,'' she said. Under the sexual and related offences section of the Crimes Ordinance, it is an offence to live off the earnings of prostitution of another person or attempt to cause prostitution of another person. Women working on their own for themselves cannot be prosecuted. But Dr Jones said taxation and licensing could protect such women from being forced to work by triads, or loansharks who offered them loans and then forced them to keep working. Taxing prostitutes and brothels could show how much prostitutes were paid and to whom they paid money. She said monitoring should not be viewed as control as well as protection. Dr Jones said triad control of prostitution could facilitate the growing Southeast Asian trade in sale of women. A conference earlier this month in Bangkok highlighted ''a growing traffic in women who are treated like a commodity''. Dr Jones said: ''It is increasing in China, where the sale of women was a traditional thing, but it has got out of hand when one man sold all the women in his family, then sold all the women in the village. The girls are becoming a commodity.'' Many police officers have privately supported the licensing and taxing of prostitutes, saying it is the only way to monitor the fast-growing vice trade. Similar suggestions by some officers last year sparked a flurry of academic interest, including Dr Jones' research work to provide an up-to-date picture of prostitution in the territory based on information from prostitutes. Another Hongkong University lecturer, Ms Veronica Pearson, also recently completed research based on interviews with prostitutes. The results are expected to be published soon.