Taiwan legalizes world's oldest profession

The country's government decriminalizes prostitution in response to pressure from sex workers' rights activists

Published June 24, 2009 8:25PM (EDT)

Score one for sex workers: Activists in Taiwan emerged victorious Wednesday after waging a long battle to legalize prostitution in their country. Six months from now, the nation's 600,000 working girls (and guys) will be free to ply their trade without fear of incarceration. "Now the client gets off free, but the prostitute gets punished, and that's not fair," sex worker spokesman Su Jun-pin told Reuters. Under the new regulations, it will be up to local governments to decide whether to relegate prostitution to specific districts or decriminalize it throughout the entire region.

What is especially remarkable about this decision is that it results from old-fashioned grass-roots organizing from groups such as Taipei's Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters. This means a massive victory not only for prostitutes in Taiwan but also for activists around the world working for decriminalization. "This is telling about the global movement," says Tara Sawyer, a Sex Workers Outreach Project board member. She compares the fight for decriminalization to the civil rights movement, saying that the Taiwan decision underscores the urgent need for the U.S. government "to listen to the people doing the work. We're not doing that yet."

Of course, it makes sense that groups working for decriminalization in this country have had less success than their Asian counterparts: In Taiwan, prostitution has only been prohibited for the past 11 years.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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