Abstract Violence against sex workers is considered a global phenomenon. Despite this, very little is known about the patterns and nature of this form of violence. This article is concerned with violence against Chinese female sex workers in Hong Kong. Based on a systematic analysis of 75 police case files, it was found that violent attacks on sex workers display clear temporal and spatial patterns, and that perpetrators share certain characteristics.
The article concludes that violence against female sex workers in the Chinese context is largely opportunity driven and goes on to argue that situational measures offer the greatest potential for preventive gains. Barriers to effective implementation such as the inappropriate or unfavourable responses of the government, the police, community leaders, and local residents toward commercial sexual activity are also discussed.
This is an exploratory study with the aim to gain a better under- standing of violence against sex workers in Hong Kong and determine strategies for prevention. Chinese sex workers in this article refer to ethnical Chinese doing sex work in Hong Kong; both local people and Mainlanders are included. The article is structured as follows. First, research on violence against sex workers is briefly reviewed. Next, the study site Hong Kong , data set, and analytical strategy are described.
This is followed by a critique of current violence-prevention strategies. The prevalence of violence against sex workers has been evident in past research. Hong Kong is no exception. In a survey study of female sex workers in Hong Kong, Violence against sex workers takes various forms, ranging from verbal harassment to physical and sexual assault, assault with a weapon, strangling, abduction or kidnap- ping, and attempted sexual assault Shannon et al.
Violence against sex workers can be client related or partner related Wechsberg et al. In a study conducted in Cambodia, it was found that more than half of the sample of sex workers reported being abused by the police Jenkins, Sanders found that community protestors can also be perpetrators of violence against sex workers. Li Violence can be related to the working venue of sex workers. Similarly, in the survey by Action for Reach Out, street sex workers in Hong Kong generally reported more incidents of violence, compared with those who worked in indoor venues, such as salons, nightclubs, and one-woman broth- els.
The working venues for street sex workers—deserted location, alleyway, back- street, or a vehicle belonging to the client—are comparatively risky Salfati et al. A lack of guardianship in the workplace combining with the power relationship between sex workers and their customers create a high-risk working environment for sex workers in Hong Kong. Without a doubt, violence is loathed and feared by victims. Recent research has emphasized the harm that sex workers suffer as a result of violence.
In addition, violence has been found to be a strong predictor of the depression of sex workers in India Suresh et al. Previous literature has highlighted measures that can be taken to tackle this particu- lar type of violence. These measures can be taken by government regulation, by mutual support within a community social measures , or by removing risk on victims through changing the immediate environment situational measures.
In some countries, the government takes an active role in protecting sex workers from victimization. Sex industries in these countries are mostly decriminalized or legalized. In addition, one believes that crime control is fundamentally social—relying heav- ily on the collective responses of different parties in the community.
Many sex workers are, in fact, not passive in the face of violence and recognise their vulnerability to victimization. Some routinely adopt situational crime prevention SCP measures to ensure their own safety. For example, two studies conducted in the United Kingdom between and using qualitative fieldwork found that sex workers try to reduce their risk for being attacked by managing the environment e.
In these two studies, qualitative data from interviews with sex workers confirmed that they felt safe in their workplaces with the application of these three techniques. This resulted in a huge reduction in violence against sex workers Kerschl, Similarly, in the regulated zone in Utrecht, the Netherlands, sex workers can solicit clients under the protection of the police formal surveillance techniques.
Nevertheless, Sander and Campbell also noted that safety can no longer continue to be assured because of the influx of global immigrants into the sex industry in this country. This is probably because immigrant sex workers remain underground and thus out of sight of the police. It is worth exploring in this article whether the aforementioned measures in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands can be applied in Hong Kong, where the sex industry is neither illegal nor government regulated.
Setting for This Research Hong Kong is a Chinese coastal city that was under the colonial rule of the British government for almost years until Hong Kong society has been influenced by Eastern and Western cultures. Purchasing sex is viewed by Chinese people as being unfaithful to their partner. Some visitors from Mainland China and other places, such as Thailand and the Philippines, were arrested for their involvement in the sex indus- try. Without a formal registration system, it is not possible to make an accurate estima- tion of the number of sex workers in Hong Kong.
Li Currently, the sex trade in Hong Kong is not considered illegal unless a person is found to be keeping a vice establishment, soliciting for an immoral purpose in public places, letting premises for use as a vice establishment, or living on earnings of the prostitution of others Crime Ordinance, Cap Obviously, although the sex industry in Hong Kong is decriminalized, the Hong Kong govern- ment adopts tight control over sex workers as well as those who facilitate the sex industry.
To crack down on the illegal activities defined by the aforementioned crimi- nal codes, and to respond to the complaints from residents and local community lead- ers, the Hong Kong police use a tough and high-profile approach to deal with sex workers.
Sex work was legalized and regulated in Hong Kong from to , and sex workers were required to register for licenses, pay taxes, and have regular health examinations.
Sex work became an underground activity in , when the Hong Kong government issued a ban on it Yang, In line with the economic prosper- ity of the s and s, the sex industry in Hong Kong was able to continue operat- ing by relying on the protection of triad societies in Hong Kong.
Since the s, the influx of young women from Mainland China provided a cheap labour force for the sex industry in Hong Kong. Because of these unique social situations, the sex industry in Hong Kong is still flourishing, despite facing tight control from the police and resis- tance from the general public in the society. In recent years, violence against sex workers has become a hot topic in Hong Kong, especially after the extensive reporting by the mass media of the serial murders of three sex workers in March Ming Pao Daily News, The sex workers subsequently organized dem- onstrations to assert their right to protection Wen Wei Po, A communication platform was promptly set up between the police and several organizations fighting for the basic human rights of sex workers in Hong Kong.
This platform was an attempt to generate solutions to the problem of violence against sex workers. However, investigations of violence against sex workers in Hong Kong remain very limited. To understand whether this criminal act is opportunity driven, we need to know about the nature and pattern of this kind of violence and the characteristics of perpetrators. Regrettably, available data in Hong Kong are scarce.
Consequently, the evidence base that can usefully inform the development of crime prevention measures to contend with this problem is limited. To address this gap in the literature, this article is intended to contextualize our understanding of the nature of violence against sex workers and to discuss some possible ways and barriers to imple- menting effective crime prevention methods in a Chinese society: In an attempt to create a clearer picture of the characteristics of perpetrators and the pattern of violence against sex workers in Hong Kong, data were coded and analyzed.
Each record contains information about the crime event i. Since , each social service agency assisting sex work- ers has been provided a full set of recorded cases of violence against sex workers from the police so as to inform sex workers in the community about the risk of victimiza- tion. With the permission of one such agency, the researcher was also able to access 80 case files and conduct an analysis of these data.
Five cases were eliminated due to missing data and irrelevancy. Consequently, 75 cases remained, involving 75 victims and 75 known perpetrators. All the victims were females. Based on the concepts gen- erated from previous literature and from preliminary scanning of the 75 cases, the researcher uncovered the following themes: More than one type of violence could be involved in one single incident.
Finally, the researcher who is also the author of this article confirmed and analyzed the data and generated her conclusions about the feasibility of applying SCP in deal- ing with violence against sex workers in Hong Kong. One should bear in mind that data drawn from police records should be used with caution. The present analysis, for instance, does not cover unreported incidents such as the violence perpetrated against sex workers by police officers, pimps, family members, and friends.
Despite this, the analysis of police records can shed some light on the workplace violence encountered by sex workers in Hong Kong. What is identified in this analysis is that violence against sex workers displays clear chronological, temporal, and spatial patterns. The perpetrators of such crimes, according to the data analyzed here, also exhibit distinctive characteristics.
Therefore, violence against sex workers is not ran- dom and is likely to be predictable and preventable.