Sex Workers Detained During Raids in Beijing, China

Hundreds of sex workers were detained in raids conducted in three nightclubs in Beijing on 23 December 2016. Days later, on 25 December, Beijing police shared details of the raids on popular Chinese social media platform, Weibo. The police gave details of the location of the raids: Dongcheng in the east of Beijing and Haidan in the north west. The police did not identify individuals implicated by the raids, but did list the gender and English name of those involved, violating the right to privacy of the sex workers detained.

According to media reports, at one of the venues raided – Baoli club – the police blocked the parking lot on arrival and detained 60 people from the club, including sex workers, waiters and security guards. At Landai Club, it was reported that the raids saw 300 club employees detained, including over 100 women.

While sex work is criminalised in China, it operates widely in venues such as massage parlous and nightclubs. These raids come despite high profile campaigning during 2016 about the impact criminalisation, police raids and the use of condoms as evidence of sex work are having on rights and health of sex workers. In July, Women’s Network Against AIDS founder Wang Qiuyun told media that despite high levels of knowledge and awareness around sexual health and condoms, sex workers in China are often unwilling to carry condoms for their own protection for fear that they will lead to arrest.

In a report on Condoms as Evidence also released in mid-2016 by Asia Catalyst it was found that 48 percent of sex workers who had been raided or interrogated by police continued to insist on condom use. The rest no longer carried them. That figure rose to 68 percent among sex workers who had not been targeted, 76 percent of whom said that they always carry condoms.

Previous high profile crackdowns by police received positive attention in the news. In 2010, Beijing Police Chief, Fu ZhengHua, gained a promotion following the raid Passionclub, a high-profile venue. The club was shutdown for 6 months (the maximum penalty for entertainment venues that are found providing sex work services) and Fu gained a public image as an enactor of righteous law enforcement. According to official reports in recent years, Beijing police have raided thousands of entertainment venues and detained many more people. However, public announcements such as the recent  December 2016 raids are fairly rare.

These recent raids have been announced in a new political environment. Recent political debates and public focus in China have centered on police brutality and specifically, the use of sex work charges to tarnish the reputation of individuals, leading the public to be more cynical and critical of the police’s actions.

In early December 2016, Lei Yang, a young father who died in police custody, was arrested for allegedly soliciting a sex worker. Advocates questioned the validity of this charge, as well as what they saw as abuse of police powers and excessive use of force by police in his arrest and custody. An online petition launched by students from the university Lei had graduated from, say that they are unconvinced by authorities’ claims he died after trying to escape arrest. They drew attention to the fact that uniformed police without police badges arrested Lei, and that the case has been handled poorly by those responsible. Despite prosecutors ruling that the police had used excessive force to arrest Lei, the charges against the five police officers were dropped.