Friday May 25, 2018

'Compensated dating' raises alarm in the mainland

2011-12-27 14:05     Web Editor: Zhang Chan comment
Girls are taken away during a crackdown on compensated dating by Hong Kong police.

Girls are taken away during a crackdown on compensated dating by Hong Kong police.

(ōsai or "compensated dating," a risky practice originating in Japan where older men give money or luxury gifts to teenage girls for companionship or sexual favors, has marched across the straits from Taiwan and Hong Kong into the Chinese mainland, and it is on the rise.

Unlike the comparatively open attitude held in Taiwan and the practical approach developed by Hong Kong, it is apparent that the Chinese mainland is unprepared for this social affliction that poses a deadly threat to teenage girls.

What responsibility government, schools and society should bear – and when non-governmental organizations should be involved – are all questions the mainland must soon answer. The experience of Hong Kong may help provide some clues.

Hong Kong began paying serious attention to the problem of compensated dating in April of 2008, following the gruesome murder of a 16-year-old girl named Kimi. Kimi, who had dropped out of school, was killed after going to a 24-year-old man's apartment on a compensated date.

The murderer dismembered the girl's body and flushed some of it down the toilet. He also scattered some of the remains in a food market, causing a panic among people who became afraid of buying food contaminated by the girl's blood.

The Hong Kong police then formed a special task force and began taking measures to track down teenage girls involved in the business of paid dating. By the end of last August, about 69 girls had been caught and sentenced by the courts, but the results have not satisfied a restive public.

In October 2008, a girl from a Hong Kong junior high school publicly posted information online, saying that in order to help her boyfriend pay back a debt she would sell herself on the first night at a starting bid of HK$3,000 (US$385.6). The closing price was HK$21,000 (US$2,699), but because there was no evidence of sexual activity, the police could not arrest the girl or the bidder.

Compensated dating can be highly profitable, and if the perpetrators are not caught in sexual behavior or seducing people for sexual actions, they cannot be charged. In addition, so far no girl in Hong Kong has been sentenced to time in prison, and most have paid a penalty of no more than HK$10,000 (US$1,285).

Though police have warned girls not to solicit themselves for compensated dating online, it has had little effect. In addition, the government has reportedly carried out research in order to draft laws on the issue, but due to a variety of reasons the plan has not been carried out.

"Girls involved in the business are like people standing on a cliff: although it is dangerous, the scenery is beautiful," said Lin Baoyi, an employee at an NGO that offers counseling to young girls.

"The girls do not want to expose themselves publically or to NGOs, but there comes a time when they need some kind of help," said Lin, who added that the police cannot provide aid or education, so it is necessary for others do something to help the girls.

One such girl named "Fish," who had been threatened by a client, sought help from Lin. Fish had engaged in sexual activity with the client twice, but because he hadn't paid her promptly, she refused services for a third time. That's when the man threatened to tell her parents about her chosen occupation.

Frightened that he might follow through, Fish went to Lin, who called the police. Fish's family is still not aware of what she once did for a living, and now she works part-time at the NGO.

Lin maintains contact with many troubled girls through MSN's Messenger service, but "most of them do not respond to me. However, there are always a few who listen," he said. I try to persuade them to give it up, he added, but most of the time I just share information about how to protect themselves and using condoms.

"Girls who are involved in such a practice have their own reasons. Some of them truly lack money, but some do not," he said.

Many of the girls firmly believe they are not prostitutes, but such a denial is hard to maintain. Some manage to escape from the vicious circle, only to return because they have failed at other things, or simply because they need the money.

In some sense, the Hong Kong NGOs play a neutral role by trying to steer girls in a healthier direction, but the job is not easy. "Some girls tell me they love to do it, but they can't tell whether they will get home safely," said Lin.

Meanwhile, media research shows that in mainland cities like Shenyang, Chongqing and Guangzhou, the number of girls engaged in compensated dating is on the rise.

In the second half of 2011, Shanghai police tracked down a large group of teenage girls involved in compensated dating, 20 of whom are now being prosecuted. The youngest girl involved the case is 14 years old.

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