Hong Kong lawmaker invites ridicule with his simplistic fix for the ills of prostitution
Alice Wu says with his self-proclaimed ‘advanced’ values, Kenneth Leung could have come up with a better idea to tackle the crime and health issues associated with prostitution than ‘just legalise it’
Politicians have a special talent for making a stink out of many things. Accounting sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung is certainly gifted in that department. Readers may remember him as the apparent victim of a supposed attack, in his own words, “as bad as a bomb attack” late last year. A suspicious substance that had been rubbed on the underside of a desk he chose to sit at rubbed off on his jeans. Investigations conducted by two private laboratories and the government’s forensic science division didn’t return anything conclusive, except for the fact that what Leung insisted looked and smelled like faeces wasn’t faeces, and was more likely to have been glue. The foul smell Leung allegedly noticed wasn’t foul play after all.
Leung caused another stink last week at the Legislative Council’s security panel meeting. This time, it was over policy measures to combat illegal prostitution. He suggested that a legal red light district could be set up in Hong Kong, which the government duly rejected. But it wasn’t Leung’s suggestion that stank; it was the presentation of his argument.
Leung qualified his stance with a most arrogant claim, that “as someone who has spent a lot of time living in the West, my values are more advanced than the majority of Hongkongers”. The statement is offensive and misguided.
He offered an easy solution to an age-old problem. This is what he basically said: according to what he has seen in Amsterdam, legalising red light districts is nipping the problem in the bud. I don’t know what Leung has seen in Amsterdam. But if he has met Amsterdam’s “oldest window girls”, the 70-year-old twin sisters Louise and Martine Fokkens, who have had a century’s worth of prostitution experience between them – in their book, in the film Meet the Fokkens, or in interviews – he would know that they had complained that legalisation had led to more criminality of the trade, not less.
I honestly wish Leung had studied the subject before he offered us his quick fix. For all his time spent in the West, it’s surprising that he missed the “Swedish model”, which criminalises the purchase, but not the selling, of sex and has since been adopted by other countries. And thanks to technological advances, learning about this does not require time spent overseas.
We can only assume, of course, that when Leung proclaimed “it is time to accept reality – that prostitution has been around for thousands of years”, he, while riding proudly on his high horse, has somehow forgotten that this is a complex issue that has troubled people for just as long.
The reality Leung needs to accept is that this “problem”, and in fact any issue worth discussing, is complex. Poverty and slavery are all around us. Human trafficking is not something to joke about, especially not the way Leung went about suggesting that the tourism sector would definitely benefit from his idea as it could boost visitor numbers.
It is a sad fact of the world that people continue to suffer in such extreme poverty that prostitution is forced and may not be a choice. It is as much a public safety issue as a public health one. It is about protecting people from exploitation, abuse and death. As a lawmaker, Leung could have sparked an illuminating public discussion about the “world’s oldest profession”. But, instead, he was caught up in his foul sense of superiority.
Sniff hard enough, and we may be onto something: our impoverished and perverted public discourse may have something to do with talking heads farting through their mouths.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA