Protest against the Police’s Relapse into Abuses of Power and False Accusations

International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers is observed on 17th December. Every year on this day, activists launch different functions to commemorate those sex workers who were murdered or violently assaulted in an attempt to raise the general public’s awareness of the safety issues and other violations of human rights faced by sex workers.

In the nine years between the establishment of the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers and 2011, we are glad to see more and more people showing their concern towards sex workers. Under the scrutiny of the activists and media, the Police have apparently reduced creating disturbance at the sex workers’ workplaces. However, the truth is the Police have never stopped abusing their powers. Legally questionable arrests targeting masseuses (including those working in foot massage parlours) and migrant sex workers have often been reported. In order to secure convictions, it is not uncommon for police officers to mislead, cheat, or threaten the arrested sex workers. In 2011 Zi Teng received complaints from well over 250 masseuses and migrant sex workers about how they were misled, being falsely accused, or forced to confess to false charges. During licence-checking or undercover operations, certain frontline officers have also regularly demanded free massage or sex service from sex workers, to the point of sexually violating them without any scruples.

Under regulations governing massage parlours, masseuses working in unlicensed premises are breaking the law. Hong Kong’s immigration policy dictates that migrant workers who are holding paid or unpaid jobs without work permits are breaching the condition of stay. The illegality of their status deters many masseuses and migrant sex workers from seeking assistance from the Police even under difficult circumstances. In the past year we received more than 100 reports from these women, detailing cases about police-impostors, criminal damage, customers who refused to pay, thefts, robberies, threats, and collection of protection money from triad societies. The Police have made it clear that no matter whether the sex worker is a victim in the reported incident or not, they are going to press charges against the sex worker if she has already violated the law in the first place. This indirectly exposes sex workers to more risk as criminals can exploit them without worrying too much about consequences.

To Zi Teng, we will not question the Police if the sex workers are arrested following due procedures at the scene of illegal activity. Unfortunately there were many masseuses and migrant sex workers who were ensnared by the Police through dubious means. Some were tricked to commit offences; some were falsely accused, and then forced to sign statements of confession. We at Zi Teng can never approve of such police malpractices.

We strongly demand the Hong Kong Police to:

  1. Observe due process: do not entice sex workers to commit offences; do not make false accusations; and do not mislead or force sex workers to make untruthful confessions
  2. Properly investigate police officers suspected of malpractice, and severely punish the black sheep in the police force.
  3. Establish an independent commission with power to investigate officers suspected of abusing their powers or violating regulations.

Zi Teng
Dec 17, 2011.

International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers marks the day of the sentencing of the notorious Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, who killed over 48 sex workers in Seattle, Washington. SWOP, a US sex workers’ rights organization launched the commemorative event to defend sex workers from violence and to demand proper legal protection for sex workers.