Prostitution seeks a place in society

By Joe Hung, special to The China Post

Call it white slavery, if you like. Or prostitution. Or street-walking. Or harlotry. It’s an act of a person who offers herself or himself for sexual intercourse for payment. And it’s man’s oldest trade since long before history began. But as the world became civilized, man started to outlaw it and has failed. That’s why it is regarded as the social evil, which, however we may try, cannot be abolished. The best we can do is to mitigate it.

And mitigate, our parliamentarians did try. They amended Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act, which is declared unconstitutional by the Council of Grand Justices in 2009 because it violates the principle of equality by penalizing sex workers alone. The nation’s constitutional court gave the legislators two years to amend it. They did as they were told on last Friday. And as was expected, nobody is pleased with the amendment, which requires local governments to set up red light districts where the sex trade is “legal” in the sense that a hooker as well as her customer won’t be punished by law but any such act outside the districts is illegal, with both of them fined as much as NT$30,000 or roughly US$1,000. The highest legislative body of the country did the good job of getting the administration off the hook on the unconstitutionality of “inequality” in punishment. But the lawmakers didn’t mitigate the social evil. Local government heads, sex workers, their customers, sex providers, women’s rights activists and so on, are up in arms against the legislators of the ruling party as well as those in opposition who came up with not even a half-cooked placebo to make the social evil a little less evil. At least 12 of Taiwan’s 22 local governments would defy the act as amended. They went on the record by stating that they would not allow red light districts within their jurisdiction, citing concerns over rising crime as justification. No one can challenge it, though. They are charged with issuing licenses to brothels whose employees have to accept regular physical tests to screen for venereal diseases. Well, it’s next to impossible to implement the new law to the letter, anyway. Prostitutes are unhappy, because prostitution remains outlawed. Their employers condemned the legislators as hypocrites who had lied about sympathetic help to sex workers. Customers are angry because they are now subject to punishment. The Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters has called for legalization of the sex industry. Women’s rights activists are angrier. They want the government at least to follow the example of Amsterdam to halve its world-famous red light district, if not that of Rotterdam to close down all its houses of ill repute. They insist that the client, rather than the sex worker, be punished, a reverse of the law-enforcement practice before the amendment of Article 80.

All complainants can definitely and reasonably justify their complaints, of course. The fact, however, is that no compromise can be achieved to the satisfaction of all. Remember mankind passed the age of promiscuity? Those were the happy old days when there wasn’t prostitution. Since man’s oldest trade came into being, the authorities have tried to regulate it lest social order should be adversely affected. Prostitution is prohibited in the Christendom as well as Muslim countries, where polygamy is legal. Even today, a harlot found in a fundamentalist Muslim country has to have her head chopped off.