Report co-submitted to the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants by Zi Teng and Migrant Support Network
In Hong Kong, to provide sex service is NOT illegal. However, it is illegal for foreign travel document or passport holders to participate in any activity with monetary reward (including sex-work). Despite the law regulation, it is estimated that more than 50000 migrant sex workers are in Hong Kong. They come from different countries, such as South America, Thailand, Philippines, Mongolia, Russia and the majority of them are from Mainland China.
Attribute to the fact that migrant sex-worker has an illegal status, they are lack of knowledge in human rights and law, and their rights have always been offended by law-enforcers: Arbitrary arrest is frequent, detained migrant sex workers are beaten up, undergo strip search and being forced to admit an offence in the police station.
Many migrant sex-workers experienced brutal violence from the customers and criminals, but most of them are reluctant to report their cases to the police because the police prefer to target on the illegal aspect of their service but not giving the protection or support for them as a victim of crime.
The HKSARS Government not only fails to handle human rights violations confronted by the migrant sex workers but even turns a blind eye to it and allows public officials to abuse their power continuously.
We urge the Special Rapporteur to concern the following issues:
Arbitrary arrest and detention of migrant sex workers from Mainland China
Women holding mainland visa are frequently stopped on street for inspection, many of them are immediately arrested WITHOUT any proven criminal evidence. Near 50% of the arrested migrant sex workers that we have contacted have not committed any crime at the time of the arrest, they were just having a meal in a restaurant, shopping, buying phone card or transferring money.
Once, two ladies were being suspected of selling sex and were arrested by the police when they were worshiping in a temple, but these two ladies were actually the wives of the officials of Hunan province from Mainland China.
Besides, undercover police officers always use “soliciting for an immoral purpose” as the charge to arrest migrant sex-workers. However, 80% of the girls arrested with the above charge during undercover operations said that it was the police who initiated and asked for sex service.
Over 90% of the girls arrested have told us that the police did not give any explanation or reason why they were being arrested. All of them cannot be put on bail and were forced to sign voluntary return paper or letter of plea guilty. Those who have signed the voluntary return paper were sent back to Mainland China immediately without trial.
Violence and inhuman treatment against migrant sex workers
In order to make the migrant sex workers submit quickly, the police use violence during the process of arrest and detainment:
- A cuffed girl was held down in front of a convenient shop and had her hands bleed.
- A girl had her both hands back cuffed and the police tore apart her clothes and sealed her mouth by tape.
- A girl who was so painful in her stomach, she crawled on the floor and asked for help but a woman police officer stepped on the little finger of the girl until it bleed and said to her, “Do not make a show here.”
- 5 migrant sex workers have continuously refused to make a statement and were locked up in a dark room and beaten up by the police (Their hair and stomach was pulled, shook and punched repeatedly.)
Other violent treatments towards migrant sex-workers included verbal threatening, strong impact on their bodies and slapping on the faces.
Police draft statement form and frame up migrant sex-workers
Over 50% of the arrested migrant sex workers revealed that the statement form was already filled out by the police when they were forced to sign it. Police officers always make use of their ignorance and cheat the girls by telling them, “No worry, after you sign it, you can go tomorrow.” A migrant sex worker was even threatened by a police officer that her boyfriend in HK would be beaten up if she refused to sign the statement.
At least 6 girls were rejected several times when they requested to read the content of the statement, and the police never explain the purpose and the consequence of signing a statement form to them. Most of the arrested girls realized that the statement form was an admission of crime ONLY after the moment they have signed it.
According to the new guideline of body search in July 2008, every detainee should have the right to know the scope and reason of the search and to receive a copy of Custody Search Form.
But in reality (in 2009), 90% of the arrested migrant sex workers that we have contacted were not told the reason and level of the search. Most of them were arrested because of breach of conditions of stay, but they still had to remove their underwear for search (two of them over 8 times within 24 hours, one of them 3 times in one night). Some of the girls demanded a clear explanation from the police officers, but the police just say,” Everyone should be searched.” And no one has ever received a copy of the Custody Search Form (Pol 1123).
Rights of the Detainee Denied
Over 90% of the detained migrant sex workers were rejected to make any phone call or contact a lawyer. These girls were allowed to call a lawyer ONLY when they had signed the statement of guilt and the Notice to Detainee. If the arrested girl continuously refused to make a statement, there will be no food, no water or toilet for her, and she will be verbally assaulted by foul language or even be beaten up.
Many migrant sex workers can not understand Cantonese and read traditional Chinese characters but the police did not arrange any interpreter. The arrested girls had no way to understand the content of the statement form and did not realize what she sign is an admission of an offence.
On 14 June 2005, over 80 women are detained in a tiny iron cage of 200 square meters in the car park of a police station. All of the arrested girls were Mainland Chinese, they are suspected of selling sex illegally in HK.
The cage is actually an open area which did not have any basic facilities like toilet or rest area, the detainees need to stand or sit on the floor and endure the heat emitted by the air-conditioners nearby and the fierce sunshine for over 12 hours. It is also a serious violation of the detainees’ privacy, as anyone can easily stare and photograph them.
Crackdown Show by the Police & District Council
On 26 October 2009, the police coordinated with district council to organize a fancy trip of sex worker raid and brought the journalists to photograph the faces of 4 arrested migrant sex workers.
This is a highly discriminative action and the authority shows NO respect to the basic privacy and dignity of the migrant sex workers. Both the police force & the District Council did not give any clear explanation to the public and NO apology is given to the victims until now.
Failure to protect the safety of migrant sex workers
Migrant sex workers are consistently being the biggest victim of crime and violence due to their illegal status. Many of them are afraid of being deported and choose to bear with the violence and not seeking any assistance from the police. Customers and criminals know about their vulnerability and they will assert various violent acts like refusing to pay or use condoms, rape, rob pretend to be police officers or even murder the sex worker.
Even the migrant sex-workers ask for police’s assistance, the police prefer to target on the illegal aspect of their service but not giving the protection or support for them as a victim of crime. This resulted in migrant sex-workers do not dare to ask for police’s assistance and bear with the crimes they face in silence. It in turn encourages criminals to offend more to the extent that even an 80 years old man dare to imprison and rob migrant sex-worker.
We strongly demand the followings:
- Stop all arbitrary arrests, creating false statement and frame-ups in all police operations.
- Respect human rights and stop all abuse of police power and violence towards migrant sex-workers and mainland Chinese.
- Reform the guidelines for body search.
- Respect the rights, privacy & dignity of the detainee.
- Stop all deprivation of the rights of migrant sex-workers as a victim of crime. Give the victim the greatest support and protection, and to arrest the criminal at large as soon as possible.
- Hong Kong government should establish an independent body to investigate the complaints against police.
- More training to the front line police officers to enhance the awareness of human rights and be fair in treating sex workers and normal citizens.