The operator of a popular online prostitutes directory was convicted of conspiring to live off the earnings of prostitution by a judge in the District Court. He was jailed for 18 months yesterday. He is a 48 year old gentleman called Chan Yuk-bun. The site's designer, programmer, photo processor and three photographers were each ordered to perform 180 hours of community service. They were also fined $20,000. They were lucky on not having been jailed like Chan.
The seven men made money by charging for adverts posted by sex workers on the website. The website has been run for three years. It was stopped after their arrest in May 2006. The case represented the first conviction of operatiors being involved in sex trade related advertising. Chan admitted his company made $90,000 to $100,000 a month by charging each prostitute $600. His personal bank account showed $6.5 million in deposits during the years the site operated.
The lucrative income made as a result of such operation suggested that such online advertisements were effective in bringing customers to sex traders. Deputy Judge David Dufton stated that a deterrent sentence was needed because such websites might allow syndicates to hide other criminal activity.
The company sent photographers to brothels to take pictures of the women, which were uploaded to the website and included in the adverts, which included the prostitutes' names, age, service offered, fees and addresses.
Judge Dufton accepted the prostitutes in this case were not subjected to control, influence or direction, unlike if they were involved with a pimp. When deciding on these types of cases, a judge can easily be guided by morality as traditionally people "look down" sex workers on the mere reason that they have "betrayed" their souls by "selling" their intimacy which should belong to their loved ones. As found by the judge, the prostitutes suffered no loss. They were in fact agreeable on using those online adverts for their trades. While Chan's earnings might be envious to many, it does not mean that Chan should be made a criminal when no evidence of harm is found.
The judge said the case was serious because it was "a sophisticated operation" and "encouraged prostitution on a large scale" for three years. This statement helps to suggest that the judge has in mind that prostitution is a criminal phenomenon that must be curtailed. This is simply moralistic. The judge also commented that the website employed no measures to prevent access by the under-aged. This statement means that underage's access to the site is a harm to them.
Hong Kong law does not prohibit prostitution. Many sex traders therefore run their trade alone in a flat. This does not breach the law. It is therefore not easily understandable while prostitution is in principle permitted, why promotion of this types of brothels has become illegal. The offence of living on the earnings of prostitute has the objective of sanctioning the abuse of sex traders. It does not aim at killing the business of single-woman brothel. The judge, while cherishing a moral cause, has in fact killed the livelihood and well-being of the sex traders who are legitimate under the law to trade their sexual intimacy legally.
Lastly, when operators using web to promote a sex trader's activities can be convicted of living off the earnings of prostitute, the list seems endless. In that event, the landlord who lets the flat to the prostitute, the woman collecting rubbish from her, the postman delivering letters to her and the Water Authority providing her with daily water for drinking and shower should also be brought before the judge for punishment.