6 myths debunked about Hong Kong’s sex industry

Well fuck a duck and put on the pink light, Roxanne! Here are six things you thought you knew about how the oldest profession works in Hong Kong, but you’re about to have that happy ending smile wiped off your face…

1. Wan Chai is Hong Kong’s “Red Light District”.

Despite its seedy reputation and many hostess bars, Wan Chai is not the biggest red district in Hong Kong. More established areas for sex work are in Kowloon. Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei are the most popular areas, while up in the New Territories sex workers cross the border from the mainland for brief visits because of higher pay in the SAR.

2. A smiley face in the sign means that a massage parlour gives “happy endings”.

According to a 2012 Apple Daily report as well as apparently well-versed netizens, not all massage parlours with a “smiley face” offer infamous “happy endings”, while some without the telltale “smiley face” have in fact been known to offer sexual services.

3. A red light means a brothel.

To save the confusion between an innocent Chinese-style red lantern and a “red light”, many Asian countries use pink lights to indicate brothels, rather than red.

4. Hong Kong’s sex industry caters to a market of middle-aged white men.

Contrary to comments from Regina Ip that Filipino domestic workers are “sexual resources” for Westerners, Hong Kong’s sex industry is not limited to straight male clients (or expats, for that matter). The slang name for a female prostitute in Cantonese is a “chicken”, so if you are looking for a gigolo you have to ask around for a “duck” (a male prostitute who services women) or a “goose” (a male prostitute who services men).

Host clubs (i.e. the male equivalent of hostess bars) are more established in Japan and Singapore, but there are a few functioning in Hong Kong if you know where to look. If Canto movie The Gigolo 2 is anything to go by, there may be a few in Jordan and Lan Kwai Fong.

5. Prostitution is legal in Hong Kong so human trafficking is not a problem.

Eden Ministry, a charitable organisation fighting against human trafficking in Asia, has found that Hong Kong is a place of transit as well as a destination for sex work. That’s not to say that every person who comes into Hong Kong for sex work is being coerced or forced into prostitution, but that human trafficking is still a very real problem in the SAR. Take this example of a case from last year, where the trafficking victim was beaten and forced to work without pay.

Human trafficking in the city is a difficult problem to solve because those who are trafficked often only stay in Hong Kong for a brief time before they are moved on somewhere else. Though no laws on sex work are perfect anywhere, in Hong Kong trafficked sex workers are criminalised for violating immigration laws and often can’t prove that they have been trafficked at all.

6. One-woman brothels are legal so therefore every sex worker in Hong Kong is working freely for themselves.

One-woman brothels refer to sex workers who work independently, who are not part of an organised brothel, and do not have to pay a pimp or “mamasan” a cut of their earnings. Prostitution is indeed legal in Hong Kong, so long as no one other than the sex worker him or herself is is earning any money off of the paid sex work.

According to the Zi Teng, a local organisation that supports sex workers, this can actually make things dangerous for a woman, as she is then working alone, unable to hire security guards or even cleaners out of fear of violating the law.

As Zi Teng points out, some one-woman brothels operate to give the appearance of independence in order to appease the law, while in reality pimps and mamasans still take their share in the majority of cases, to cover any visa costs, rent, living costs and protection.


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