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China: Sex workers demand legalization, organizer detained

Sex workers and their supporters in south central China's Wuhan took to the streets with red umbrellas last Wednesday to collect signatures calling for the legalization of prostitution.

Among them was Hooligan Sparrow, who several years ago made a name for herself by posting nude pictures of herself online, and today runs a women's rights organization; her Twitter profile describes her as a “feminist, member of the prostitution movement and sex worker”. Just before noon on Sunday, Hooligan Sparrow reported on Twitter that she had been taken away by police.

On Friday, Hooligan Sparrow uploaded video of the petition action:


[link1]


[link2 **08/06 update: the first video was mistakenly embedded twice, this has been corrected. Thanks, Juan!]

As well as photos and a blog post which have since been harmonized:

我不知道这算不算中国的NGO第一次上街倡议性工作者合法化,这对于我们工作组来说,是一个非常郑重的决定。

I don't know if this counts as the first time a Chinese NGO has taken to the street calling for the legalization of sex workers, but for our working group, it was a very solemn decision to do so.

以前我并不打算去要求合法,只希望姐妹的权益在目前的环境下,能够更大化地得到保护。

Previously, I had no intention of making demands for legalization, I had only hoped that under the current state of things, the rights and interests of our sisters would receive greater protection.

但今年疯狂的严打,让我绝望。每天打开新闻,看到全国铺天盖地的扫黄行动,看到镜头下,姐妹们低着头,捂着脸,被游行,被曝光,被社会残暴地扯到大庭光众之下羞辱,我就决定了,我不能再迟疑,不能再软弱,必须要有一种坚定的声音来反对他们这么做。

But the crackdowns this year have been insane and leave me feeling hopeless. Every day when you look at the news, you see sex being criminalized everywhere across the country; when they see the cameras, sisters will hang their heads our cover their faces as they get paraded around, exposed and publicly humiliated. So, I decided I could no longer hesitate or be wimpy about this, that there needs to be a forceful voice in opposition to people being treated like this.

是的,我提倡合法化,就在扫黄严打的风口浪尖上!

Yes, I'm pro-legalization, and this fight is against the persecution of sex!

几十年来,扫黄一直就是作秀,扫黄从来没有什么社会成果,从来都是今开打,明天开,东边打,西边开。除非是消灭人权,灭绝人性,否则,根本压制不住,人口比例失调,单身性压抑带来的强大社会需求。

For decades, these kinds of vice crackdowns have just been performance; cracking down on sexual vice has never seen any social change, it's always been a crackdown one day, another the next, crackdowns in the east followed by crackdowns in the west. Short of obliterating human rights, or humanity, this kind of suppression will never last. With the gender ratio out of proportion, sexual constraints on single [men] has created enormous social demand.

我们今天到了街头。

So today we took to the street.

许多人对我们的提倡不理解,一些路人表情怪异,这大概是他们第一次发现,有这么怪的事情,居然还有人提倡性工作合法化。一些中年的妇女,更是不理解,她们说,“合法?合法那社会不乱套了吗?”

所有的人,都对国家机器,国家机构的管理能力,没有信心,他们认为一合法,全国的女人都会去做妓女。

合法化纳入管理,可以控制从业的人数,审查从业者的年龄,根本不会是全国的女人都做妓女,而市场也有自我调控能力,当全国的女人都做妓女,性变得便宜了,做白领跟做性工作者工资同等时,女人们自然会有更偏向主流的选择。

Many people don't understand what it is we're advocating, and some passers-by gave us strange looks—this most likely being their first time to encounter people calling for, of all things, legalization of sex work—and feeling strange about it. Some middle-aged women were even less understanding, saying “legalize it? Wouldn't that turn society upside down?”

You see, nobody has confidence in the capability of state organs and authorities to keep order; the way they see it, if sex work were ever legalized, all the women across the country would go and become prostitutes.

Legalization, combined with management, would allow for control over the numbers and age of practitioners, and would never result in all women becoming prostitutes. Besides, the market self-regulates; if all women were to go and become prostitutes and sex became cheap as a result, such that the wages equaled that of a white collar worker, women would still naturally gravitate toward the more mainstream option.

合法,并不等于放纵,泛滥。只是让现在的行业,阳光化。

但她们的脑袋,从来都不关心社会问题,早就锈掉了,去跟她们讨论这些有意义吗?她只会考虑到,合法化了,她的老公,就会明目障胆去找小姐了,法律不能帮助她来管男人了。

Legal is not the same thing as unrestricted or unchecked. What it does mean is this current profession would be brought into the open.

But these women, for whom social problems have never been given much consideration and whose minds went rusty long ago, would engaging them in discussion be of any use? The only thing they're concerned with is, were it legalized, whether or not their husbands would start visiting prostitutes openly and flagrantly (the law being, after all, unable to help them control their men).

一个中年妇女,是我们坚定地支持者。她是街边卖报纸的阿姨,“你们这样有用吗?没有用的,社会已经坏掉了,当官的,就只知道自己捞钱,哪会管百姓死活?”

“你这样做不仅没有用,还会把自己累死!”

“你这样做,政府给你钱吗?政府感谢你吗?”

我只能笑。

但她很气愤。

“你是什么人,什么单位的?你是学生吗?”

One middle-aged woman, though, adamantly supported us. A roadside newspaper vendor, she asked, “is there any point in you doing this? It's useless, society is already messed up, and officials, all they know how to do is make money for themselves, why would they give a crap about us?”

“Not even just useless, you're gonna burn yourselves out if you keep going!”

“Will the government pay you for what you're doing? Would they even thank you?”

All I could do was laugh.

But she was really angry.

“Who are you, anyway? Who do you work for? Are you students?”

我告诉他,我是一个社会组织的负责人,我们做了五年了。我也告诉她,我并不指望立刻改变,中国确实存在官员腐败的问题,正因为如此,才需要民众出来监督,发出声音,那他们才会改变。一年没有变化,我们花五年来争取,五年不行就十年,十年不行,一百年,总会改变的。

她仍然绝望地断言,但她说,只可惜她不认识字,否则报纸不卖了,就跟我一起干了。

I told her that I'm a community organizer, that I've been at this for five years. I also told her that I don't expect immediate change, and the fact that officials are so corrupt is precisely the reason why citizens need to stand up and monitor them, make their voices heard, that only then will they change. A year from now, if nothing has changed, then we'll spend five years fighting; if five years doesn't change anything, then ten years, or a hundred years if necessary; things will change eventually.

At that, she suddenly went quiet, and then she said, it's too bad that she can't read, otherwise she'd quit selling newspapers and come join us in our fight.

我没有想到,一个没有文化的卖报的阿姨,面对社会问题,有如此大气的胆识。她比起在街边那些稀里糊涂,看着展版傻笑的,所谓受过高等教育的人,强了不知道多少倍。

有几个年轻人,支持我们的签名,他们认为,应该合法化,并提到台湾也有人在倡议合法。

还是需要拓展视野,中国百姓的生活太闭塞,信息太闭塞,她们根本不知道做为人,自己拥有的权益,和应该尊重别人的权利。
而今天,我上街倡议合法化,是在行使一个人群的表达权,话语权!

不管你支不支持,性工作者有权利发出自己的声音,表达自己的诉求。

请不要阻止我们,请给性工作者一个发声的空间。

I hadn't expected that an uneducated middle-aged newspaper vendor like herself would be so brave about tackling social issues. Compared to the knuckleheads standing around smiling stupidly as they read our posters, these so-called highly educated folk, she's a hundred times stronger.

A few youngsters signed our petition in support; in their view, it ought to be legalized, and some even pointed out that a similar campaign is now underway in Taiwan.

Still, a broader view is needed. Chinese people are too closed-off in their lives, too cut off from information, many don't even know what it means to be alive, never mind embrace their own rights and interests or respect the rights of others. My going to the street today to call for the legalization of sex work was merely me exercising my right to free speech and right to be heard!

Regardless of whether or not you support them, sex workers still have the right to make their voices heard and to express their own demands.

Please don't try and stop us. Instead, please try and give sex workers a place to speak up.

Sina blogger Li Gong touched on the subject of legalizing sex work in his lengthy July 18 post, ‘At present, China needs to be arresting corrupt officials, not prostitutes‘ in which he expands on a number of reasons why China today is ready for just such a move:

从历史上看;改朝换代大多是因与官员腐败有关。而无因卖淫嫖娼有关。最近从北京开始打击卖淫嫖娼行动,全国各地也开始了,从网民反映中看出支持度不是很高,网民好象是同情卖淫理解嫖娼居多,好多网民还是要求惩治腐败的。

本人认为;惩治腐败是政府目前的首要工作,[...] 基于目前社会现状,我认为打击卖淫嫖娼不是政府的要务,应修改现行法律,允许卖淫嫖娼合法化,具体理由是:(1)卖淫合法化可以使我国性服务行业由非法隐蔽转向合法公开,有利于政府加强对卖淫人员健康的管理,防止艾滋病以及其它性疾病的传播;(2)卖淫合法化可以改变我国性服务行业长期受公权力庇护而得以非法存在的现状,减少国家权力腐败;(3)卖淫合法化有助于重塑国家法律权威,不至于再出现“小姐”集体宣誓,公然挑逗国家法律的尴尬局面。

Historically, the reasons behind the majority of dynastic changes have been related to corruption, not prostitution. Recently, Beijing has launched a crackdown on prostitution, followed by crackdowns across the country. Judging from netizens’ responses, the level of support for this is not high. It seems that the majority of netizens are sympathetic to prostitutes and those who procure their services, at the same time demanding that corruption be stamped out.

Personally, I feel that fighting corruption is a priority for the government at present. [...] Based on the current social status quo, I feel that fighting prostitution and solicitation should not be a priority for the government, which should alter the existing laws and allow for the legalization of prostitution and solicitation. The reasons for this are: 1) Legalization of prostitution, allowing China's sex service industry to go from being illegal and underground to legal and in the open, would make it easier for the government to better manage prostitutes’ health and prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs; 2) The legalization of prostitution would alter the status quo in which China's sex industry is allowed to exist illegally under the protection of authorities, thereby reducing state authority corruption; 3) The legalization of prostitution would help restore the authority of state laws, preventing a recurrence of “ladies” making collective oaths or other awkward situations which overtly challenge state laws.

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