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June 24, 2017

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Taipei urged to decriminalize sex work

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Sex workers and their supporters called Tuesday for the Taipei City government to legalize prostitution. The demonstrators criticized Mayor Ko Wen-je for trying to "wash his hands" of the issue.

About a dozen Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (日日春關懷互助協會) members demonstrated outside city hall, with the group's secretary, Kuo Pei-yu, panning Ko for failing to make good on his campaign promise to start a dialogue on prostitution and government-sanctioned red light zones in Taipei.

On top of that, Kuo said, the mayor was giving the police and city government free rein to treat sex workers like "ATM machines" by having officers masquerade as clients in order to issue large fines for prostitution — a strategy she said was illegal as it induced people to commit crimes.

Kuo cited the case of one sex worker, "Miko," who was arrested by Taipei police last year after being solicited over the internet. The sex worker now faces up to NT$1 million in fines.

Many middle-aged people like Miko rely on their earnings from sex work to take care of children or sick family members and, if arrested, they often receive financial penalties far beyond their means, Kuo said.

"Living like this is really hard for us," a sex worker who identifies herself as Hsiao Yu (小玉) said, outlining how the city government's actions are pushing them into desperation.

Activists laid out their demands: urging Ko to lead a review within the police department regarding their employment of illegal means to arrest sex workers, seeking collaboration between Ko and the sex workers to commence city-wide dialogue in a move to legalize prostitution.

In response to the activists' demands, Taipei City's Police Department sent out Administrative Division secretary Tsai Ting-sheng to receive the activists' petition. "We will bring your opinions back for further deliberation," he said, stirring dismay from activists, who accused the government of dragging its feet.

Tuesday's mobilization came after nominee for Judicial Yuan president Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力) last week expressed support for the establishment of sex districts and the legalization of prostitution.

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