Push to stamp out Taipei’s booming sex industryxo

By Lawrence Chung, The Straits Times, 14 December 2000

TAIPEI—City authorities here have embarked on a campaign to clean up the city’s sex industry and to rid the capital’s residential area of its share of brothels.

But even the vice-mayor is worried that however well-planned the sweep might be—it includes regular searches and round-ups as well as pressure tactics like cutting of water and power supplies—it might not be able to eradicate the illegal sex trade in the city.

City authorities said the latest drive had so far forced 77 out of 79 concerns suspected of running illegal sex activities out of residential areas to close their operations or revert to their previous legal business.

Mr Ou Chin-der, the vice-mayor, acknowledged that the number of illegal sex operators in residential areas could be higher than 79. He said the city government would continue its crackdown to make sure the sweep was thorough.

‘If we slacken, the busted ones are likely to make a return,’ he said.

The city currently has more than 1,000 bars, clubs, dance halls and massage parlours, most of which are suspected of providing illegal sex services.

Previously, the city limited legal prostitution to a number of sex workers who plied their trade under the protection of an old decree enacted in the 50s.

But two years ago, the authorities decided to end the trade and revoked licences issued to 133 prostitutes. The decision drew sharp protests from the licensed prostitutes, some of whom attempted suicide, thus forcing the city to delay the ban until next year.

During this period, the city’s authorities tried to help the legal sex workers change jobs, but achieved little success.

Of the 133, 52 had accepted the city government’s help in changing jobs, but some were later suspected of having gone back to their old trade, this time going underground.

Many of those who fell back on prostitution were not able to find a proper job because of their old age and poor education, city councillor Lee Chien-chang said.

‘Among those who had taken low-paid factory jobs, some went back to their old ways after their factories closed down,’ he added.

Sociologists said it would be difficult to eradicate the illegal sex trade as there would always be a demand.

The rapid change in moral standards in a fast developing, materialistic society was another key factor fuelling growth of the sex industry, social worker Ms Chou Chia-chun said.

‘Today, even school girls have put their nude pictures on Internet web sites to peddle their sex services. Just look at their obsession with money and you can understand why many women nowadays do not think prostitution is a shameful trade,’ she said.

A woman recently caught for performing an erotic dance during which she allowed customers to touch her body, said she believed money was everything in this world.

‘I don’t lose an inch of my flesh by being caressed by my clients,’ she said.

Ms Chou said that the government should work out a set of tough regulations to control and keep track of the sex business.