Donate By Nayantara Bhat Sandy was merely curious when she wrote her first post on the online dating forum. Sex work was the forbidden fruit — enticing, kinky, definitely taboo. Late one night, after a friend in the industry briefed her on legal issues and gave her tips on how to please a client, she decided she wanted in. The next morning, she used a forum to self-promote, and by nightfall, she had her first customer. It was as simple as that.
The compensated dating industry is what makes sex work in Hong Kong unique. There is no shortage of men willing to pay for companionship and sex, and business is booming — one recently-busted ring had over , members.
The industry is supported by internet forums and apps like WeChat and Instagram, where prices are negotiated. The ease of the system has girls in Hong Kong turning to compensated dating as a source of extra income; the authorities now see it as a serious problem.
Despite its popularity or because of it , part-time sex work like compensated dating is thought to be riddled with exploitation. But women who work in the industry view it differently: Meanwhile, Sandy — who has been doing compensated dating since August last year — is both cheery and completely unabashed about it. At the very beginning, she decided to be open about her work rather than be cowed by stigma.
However, she still makes an effort to hide her real name, saying that previous news reports have resulted in a barrage of cyber-bullying. These posts are viewed with horrified awe by the students of the university she attended, to whom she has become something of an urban legend. But she still hopes to use these accounts to bring something new to activism. Dispelling the myths While police and activist groups clash over the perceived risks of compensated dating, the legal quagmire created by these differences in opinion has been tough on the sex workers themselves.
Current legislation severely restricts sex workers, who amongst other things are not allowed to promote their services in public spaces, work in groups, or lease a workspace. Most laws related to sex work are intended to prevent brothels and pimping, but they can have unforeseen effects on the women. This law seems reasonable — preventing pimps from operating — until you consider its implications. For instance, Sandy says that girls can sometimes get into physically violent situations because they are unable to hire a bodyguard to protect them.
Protecting myself is the most important issue. This training is one of the services Zi Teng provides, alongside medical and legal help. The organisation teaches girls how to monitor sexual transactions and be aware of occupational risk.
Without a knowledge of how to handle such situations, women are often blackmailed or tricked into having unprotected sex. But what about women who are forced into the industry by financial trouble? Lee puts it succinctly: Sex workers also need money.
BrokenSphere via Wikimedia Commons. After eight months in sex work, Sandy has come to understand the real problem with compensated dating: Doing compensated dating, she says, can buy her two or three years to cultivate new skills and interests.