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China's high-profile crackdowns on prostitution have made sex workers more vulnerable to abuse by police and clients while failing to curb the trade, a new report says.
Women described being assaulted by police and other security officials until they admitted to being sex workers, leading to them being fined or detained for up to two years without trial. Another told the group: "They attached us to trees, threw freezing cold water on us, and then proceeded to beat us. The report, released on Tuesday, also detailed abuses including forced or coercive HIV testing and disclosure of HIV test results to third parties.
Prostitution largely disappeared in the Mao era but has flourished since China's economic reforms began. The United Nations estimates that between 4 million and 6 million adult women are engaged in sex work, often in hotels, hair salons, karaoke bars or streets and parks. Authorities have launched frequent drives against the sex industry , but it remains widespread and visible. While such campaigns see hundreds of women rounded up, brothels often continue to operate with little obvious difficulty.
While there have been hints of change in the government's approach — three years ago the ministry of public security ordered an end to the public shaming of sex workers and said they should be treated more respectfully — problems remain widespread. Several interviewees said they had been assaulted by police or by auxiliary workers. Others reported police entrapping them or extorting sex. Bequelin said that one of the problems was that fines were a major source of revenue for the police.
Women can also be sentenced to up to two years of detention without a proper trial and with no entitlement to a lawyer. Because most offences related to sex work are administrative rather than criminal, they are dealt with by committees headed by the police rather than courts. One worker complained that women were often beaten into confessions, adding: "If you can bear the beating, usually they'll detain you for 24 hours and then let you go.