Police parade accused prostitutes in downtown Shenzhen
Police parade accused prostitutes in downtown Shenzhen
AP Photo/Reporters.be

Sex work in China - exposing the stigma

Mobilising the media to challenge attitudes towards prostitution in China
Seen as dirty and immoral, most sex workers in China face discrimination, exploitation and aggression. Pushing for their rights is considered a dissident activity, as activist Ye Haiyan found out when she was briefly detained last year.

When rights activist Ye Haiyan learnt about a headmaster accused of raping six schoolgirls, she was photographed holding up a sign that read ’Principle, take me in a hotel room, leave the pupils alone.’ The image went viral online, giving a boost to both Ye’s reputation and her campaign.

A year earlier, after witnessing a police raid on a brothel, Ye offered free sexual services to rural peasants in defence of sex workers’ rights.

Known for her unorthodox methods and hard-hitting blog posts, Ye recently wrote a column for RNW’s Chinese website outlining the blatant injustice and hypocrisy towards sex workers in her country.

"Mainstream media are banned from discussing prostitution"

“Pushing for the legalisation of sex workers’ rights goes against government ideology. Mainstream media are banned from discussing the topic,” says Ye. It’s prompted her to turn to online media, including RNW’s platforms, to spread her message.

“I can only hope that the media, as well as civil society, will show sex workers in a relatively fair and favourable light. So that the general public can come to understand and relate to it. And hopefully, in time, this may lead the government to recognise and promote the human rights of these workers. Because that’s their political responsibility.”

Every voice counts
The column on RNW’s Chinese-language website Helan online drew many positive reactions. “Some comments are substantial and remarkably critical of the government – people really dare to speak up,” says Editor Bei Wang. “It reflects our slogan Every voice counts.”

For Ye’s part, she is rather surprised by the impact her column has had. “Maybe people do actually care about the rights of sex workers. Of course, as a group, they’re easily defined and have always drawn special attention. But it surely is a sign of hope.”

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