On September 6, 1997, the Taipei City Council and Taipei City Mayor Chen Shui-bian together decreed the 128 legal prostitutes of Taipei illegal. Overnight, these 128 prostitutes became the target of police arrest, daily surveillance and harassment; whereas before September 6, they had been the only prostitutes able to take recourse to the police and demand legal protection in case of client harassment and abuse.
The Taipei City Government had been planning to phase out legal prostitution by not giving out new licenses and within the next two decades, legal prostitution would have died out in Taipei city. Yet, in order to show its determination in the recent governmental anti-obscenity campaign (sao huang), the mayor has willfully decided to implement the inhumane measure of declaring illegal the work of 128 women, most of whom are semi-literate single mothers in their mid-forties, many of whom are supporting extended families. The city government has promised temporary subsidies for these prostitutes, but the latter say they do not want charity funds from the government. We can work for a living, let us do that, they say. Furthermore, governmental subsidy funds come with strings and stringent conditions which not all the women can meet. It also demands that these women stay away from hotels, bars and all such places for the duration of a year of subsidy funding to avoid all suspicions of continued sex work: these 128 women have in effect been placed on parole awaiting the allocation of subsidy funding.
Since September 6, these women have formed a group to demand a reasonable two-year grace period before the new law making their jobs illegal takes effect. Several local labor groups and women's groups have rallied to their support, pointing to how this mode of declaring prostitutes illegal is similar to the recent spate of sudden closing of factories in Taiwan without providing for woman workers' security.
We urge you to sign your name in support of these 128 prostitutes who are still in the process of protesting their sudden illegal work status and the resulting police harassment and surveillance. We urge you to support their demand for a two-year grace period, which will be discussed at the opening of the next city council meeting in October. Your signature will certainly add to the pressure. Please forward this message on to all concerned.
The Awakening Foundation
Center for the Study of Sexuality and Difference, National Central University
United Front of Women Workers
Alliance of Pink Collar Workers
Research Center of Gender and Space, National Taiwan University
Research Center for the Study of Gender and Society, National Tsinhua University
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