[Stop-traffic] News/Hong Kong: A magnet for mainland sex

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Hong Kong: A magnet for mainland sex
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@mindspring.com)
Date: Mon Nov 06 2000 - 10:50:09 EST


A magnet for mainland sex
Police are losing the fight against the growing number of prostitutes from
across the border who are flocking to work in Yuen Long
By Linda Yeung
The South China Morning Post, October 25, 2000

YUEN LONG, Hong Kong -- Pau Cheung Square, an open area in the heart of
Yuen Long, is a popular hangout for elderly residents from nearby housing
estates and walled villages. It is also at the top of a police watchlist.
The tiny park, where senior citizens do their morning exercises, has become
a centre for prostitutes, many from the mainland, and it is prompting calls
for action.

Police raids on villas in the area are frequent. But the trade, which is
affecting the everyday lives of local residents, is not easy to stamp out.
One raid was conducted by a team of uniformed officers on Wednesday
afternoon last week. They targeted an old building next to the park. The
officers were expecting to find mainland prostitutes inside, but there was
just a woman and a stocky man who claimed to be her relative. There were
rows of empty rooms.

Mainland women arrested in previous raids on villas had been working as
prostitutes while in Hong Kong on two-way permits. They were breaching
their conditions of stay which forbid any sort of employment, including
prostitution. Others were overstayers.

Innocent female residents complain they have found themselves mistaken for
prostitutes and approached by men seeking sex.

In a major crackdown on what is believed to be a syndicate-controlled villa
in Yuen Long late last month, officers from New Territories North arrested
more than 60 people, including 33 mainland women from Heyuan in Guangdong
province. An undercover police agent had worked there gathering evidence
before the raid was launched.

One prostitute paid 20,000 yuan (about HK$ 18,736) in bribes to obtain a
two -way permit, and repaid money owed to the syndicate by forfeiting her
earnings from the first 200 hours she worked, says Superintendent Steve Li
Wing-hong.

Legal advice is being sought on whether to charge some of those arrested in
the raid with organised-crime offences. They are believed to be masterminds
in recruiting the women. Many of the women who worked at the villa had been
forced or tricked into coming to Hong Kong. "Our agent saw some girls
crying, with one threatening to jump from the window," says Mr Li.

Early this month, police executed closure orders on two villas on nearby
Tung Lok Street and Tai Tong Road as part of the efforts to tackle vice.
The keepers of the two villas were found to have offered sexual services to
undercover officers during a series of operations mounted between January
last year and June this year. Two men arrested were subsequently charged
with managing vice establishments and living on earnings of prostitution.
They are awaiting trial.

Under the Crimes Ordinance, a court can issue an order to close for six
months premises where a person is convicted of keeping a vice
establishment. But such orders are rare. It is also not easy to curb the
supply of street prostitutes who have made their own way to Hong Kong and
are not necessarily controlled by the syndicates.

A middle-aged woman wearing a pink T-shirt and platform shoes, and seen
wandering in daylight last week on Tung Lok Street next to a mini-bus
terminus, typifies one such worker. She was seen accosting two elderly men
who walked past her. They drifted away after being approached, but she
stayed, casting her eye on other passers-by. The woman kept silent when
asked by the Post why she was loitering.

Police say some of the street workers have come to Hong Kong using forged
documents. "See that woman seated on the bench over there?" asks an angry
shop owner. "She is a pimp. She is always there accompanied by some men. We
have also seen other women accosting and asking old passers-by for money.
No one here dares to say anything for fear of inviting trouble. The police
should do more to tackle the problem."

A member of the Yuen Long District Council, Lo Yuk-fun, has been asking for
more police officers to be deployed as "snakes" on the streets - posing as
potential customers to trap the prostitutes who approach them.

Prostitution is not illegal in Hong Kong, but it is against the law for
anyone, a woman or man, to solicit another person in a public place for an
immoral purpose.

"What the police have done so far has fallen short of our expectations,"
says Mr Lo. "They deployed more than 100 tactical unit officers to arrest
illegal immigrants at construction sites. So why can't they deploy more to
catch the prostitutes?"

Local residents have been mistaken for prostitutes. "The problem has been
going on too long," says another councillor, Yau Tai-tai. "Some women felt
insulted after they were asked about their price by men on the street."

In the first nine months of this year, 161 mainland prostitutes have been
arrested in Yuen Long, and 58 have been charged with breaching conditions
of stay.

Unlike other parts of Hong Kong, the street prostitutes target mostly
elderly customers, capitalising on the sizeable population of senior
citizens in the area. The two old public housing estates in the town centre
of Yuen Long are mainly inhabited by elderly people, whose children have
probably moved to the city.

Senior citizens from walled villages on the outskirts of the town also come
out in large numbers at dawn for dim sum or morning exercises in parks or
squares. That is when the street prostitutes are out in force, residents
say. According to the police, prostitutes target the elderly because there
is little chance they are undercover police.

Police resources are stretched by the need to deter the operation of
one-woman brothels, which are usually manned by local women. Although they
are not illegal, inspections by uniformed or plainclothes police are
carried out from time to time to see if underaged girls are involved or if
any laws violated.

Landlords of premises found to have been used habitually for the purpose of
prostitution are also in breach of the law. This year, Yuen Long police
have issued more than 20 warning letters to landlords, telling them the
legal consequences of renting out premises for prostitution. So far, no one
has been charged with this offence.

Yuen Long District Commander Trevor Oakes says the syndicates often arrange
for the women's travel to Hong Kong and their accommodation. The isolated
nature of Yuen Long, where villa operators are more likely to be well
-connected with each other, makes tackling the problem difficult as owners
often tip each other off after raids.

"The problem of prostitution gives a bad impression of law and order in the
district," Mr Oakes concedes. But, he says: "A lot of manpower is required
to wipe out street prostitution. We have had limited success with raids as
the villa operators are extremely wary. They can tell the identity of our
undercover officers by their age, height and build. For each successful
raid, there are 10 unsuccessful ones."

Since last year, Yuen Long police have tried a new tactic: asking female
officers to pose as prostitutes on the streets to catch male clients. From
January last year to September this year, 71 men were arrested. Each was
fined between $ 500 to $ 1,000 for soliciting sexual services in a public
place. The penalties for the street prostitutes from the mainland, prior to
repatriation, usually range from jail terms of between two weeks and four
months.

Closure orders on villas can only be sought if the operator has been
convicted twice of running a vice establishment, and it usually takes two
years before such an order is enforced. Mr Oakes wants the process speeded up.

In Mongkok, more and more mainland women have been uncovered in recent
raids on brothels. Since last year, Mongkok police have also held joint
raids with immigration officers to identify mainland prostitutes who are
either on two -way permits or are overstayers.

The latest joint operation, involving 34 raids at vice premises in Mongkok
last weekend, led to the arrests of 60 mainland women - 58 for having
breached their conditions of stay and two for illegal immigration. The
youngest is aged 17. Four men were arrested for managing a vice establishment.

"The best way to control the problem is to stop the entry of doubtful
female visitors at border checkpoints," says District Operations Officer in
Mongkok, George Lee Kiu-ki. "In a way, we are protecting local sex workers
by cracking down on mainlanders."

Mr Li, from New Territories North, says heavier sentences for villa
operators and tightening up the application process for two-way permits are
needed. He does not believe the prostitutes are deterred by the fear of
arrest in police undercover operations or even by prison.

Meanwhile, curbing the activities of mainland prostitutes in Hong Kong
depends largely on stopping them entering in the first place.

An Immigration Department spokesman would not reveal the criteria used by
officers to deny entry to women at the border who are suspected of planning
to work in the sex trade. He says much depends on a personal assessment of
each visitor.

In the first eight months of this year, the Immigration Department denied
entry to 1,227 mainland women.
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