Compensated dating deals are done through the likes of WeChat, according to police. Photo: Reuters

Underage girls, rape … and handbags: inside the murky world of Hong Kong’s compensated dating scene

Officer warns that youngsters, in a bid to earn money, face dangers from clients including rape as deals are done over the likes of WeChat and Instagram

Jennifer Ngo

Underage compensated dating – where a man pays a girl for companionship and often sexual relations – has gone “underground”, according to police.

They say it has moved to phone apps like WeChat and Instagram, where users can chat privately.

Cases are also grossly under-reported, as teenagers often do not seek help unless they can no longer control the situation, as when a “client” starts blackmailing them with secretly taken naked photos or videos for more favours.

Chief Inspector Frances Lee King-hei from the police family conflict and sexual violence policy unit said teenagers often saw compensated dating as a business and had no moral objections to such transactions.

“They often think of themselves as entrepreneurs ... and they market themselves,” Lee said. “But they overestimate their ability to control the situation. They think they are in control of the situation and say they have an agreement with their clients about boundaries and rules. But who would really adhere to those rules once you’re already out with that man?”

Lee said in known cases, many were forced to perform sexual favours they didn’t want to, were raped or more. Others also unknowingly had their interactions filmed, which the “client” would then threaten to post on their Facebook page or even print photos and put them up around their school, Lee said.

“Teenagers nowadays report their whereabouts and daily routines on the internet, making them very easy to trace,” Lee said.

Crimes are also gaining a digital dimension. With the rise of social media, teenagers are gaining easier access to compensated dating and there is less need to have a pimp or “handler” as they can access “clients” by phone or by following up comments posted on their Instagram accounts, Lee said.

“We got to know a case [through NGOs] in which a girl was shopping and found something she wanted to buy, but she didn’t have the money. She immediately found a client online and a few hours later got enough money to buy what she wanted,” Lee said. “It’s so easily accessible now ... but the dangers are grave and things do go wrong ... They are too young and immature to handle the dangers.”

There have been 12 compensated dating cases since July last year, according to police, with the youngest being just 12 years old and the oldest 23. Seven were students, according to the police.

The police only started collecting compensated dating statistics in July 2015.

There were four underage rapes in the past six months – two by people the girls met online.

Most of the cases involved sexual relations, unlike in Japan where compensated dating often involves just a meal or a movie, Lee said.

“The reluctance to speak to the police is due to false information circulated on the internet about how the police would arrest the girls,” Lee said. “The truth is if an adult had sex with an underage person, it’s the adult who will be arrested, not the child.”

As the summer months are a high-risk time for compensated dating as students are on holiday, Lee called on parents to be more aware of their children’s daily routine and spending patterns.

“If your child suddenly has a lot of new clothes or handbags, you’ll need to think about where they’re getting money to buy them if it’s not from you,” she said.