“While working in the club, we didn’t have a life. It’s so temporal… nice restaurants, fancy clothes, all temporary happiness. Any prostitute who says they’re happy, they’re in denial. The girls would go back and cry even if they had made US$10,000 that night with a man from the Middle East. You’re forced to make love with a man you don’t like. Your soul and emotions have to be numb. Only drugs numb.”

“While working in the club, we didn’t have a life. It’s so temporal… nice restaurants, fancy clothes, all temporary happiness. Any prostitute who says they’re happy, they’re in denial. The girls would go back and cry even if they had made US$10,000 that night with a man from the Middle East. You’re forced to make love with a man you don’t like. Your soul and emotions have to be numb. Only drugs numb.”
Then there was the sexual abuse and exploitation, which was widespread. One time, a client strangled one of her girls.
TROUBLE WITH THE LAW.
The escort business operates in a shady area, where the line between what is legal and what is not is not always clear. Mary says clubs would often be tipped off about police raids before they happened – “corruption is everywhere”. The mamasans and women feared the police. Mary feels that had more police been trained to identify women in the red light district who felt they had been coerced into prostitution, some lives could have been saved. “The police must have a deeper understanding that these women are trapped and that in their heart of hearts, these women hate their work. No one wants to be a prostitute.”
A Hong Kong police spokesperson said they had found prostitutes from the Chinese mainland, Southeast Asia, Europe and South America who had been trafficked to Hong Kong on tourist visas. However, these women, according to the police, are usually reluctant to speak out.
Last year, police arrested 266 people on suspicion of keeping a vice establishment. In Hong Kong, prostitution itself is legal, but organised prostitution is not.
While some clubs and operators from Tsim Sha Tsui have migrated to the Wan Chai bar street, the days of the luxurious nightclub scene are over – Club Bboss itself shut in 2012.
Yet even now, campaigners estimate there are anywhere between 20,000 to 100,000 children, women, and men working in prostitution in Hong Kong. According to Zi Teng, a support group, around 1 in 50 are under 18.
According to one NGO worker, some smaller nightclubs in Kowloon have forced underage Chinese girls – usually from broken families – into prostitution through debt bondage. The girls are lured by mamasans who ask if they want “easy cash” or “pocket money”. The girls soon get into debt, finding they owe their mamasans HK$10,000 to HK$20,000 for living expenses or to finance their cocaine or ketamine drug habits.
Despite such problems there is no government funding to support NGOs to provide direct intervention, according to the NGO worker.
Sandy Wong, chairperson of the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee of the Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers, says more needs to be done to stop the demand for prostitution. “In Sweden, targeting the sex buyers helps reduce prostitution and sex trafficking significantly and it is a model increasingly adopted by other countries. It is a model we should adopt in Hong Kong.”
Every night, Mary and her girls drank to ease the pain. Their daily routine before their work would involve lunch then a beauty parlour session. In 1991, a friend who owned a beauty clinic in Cebu visited Mary to ask for her help setting up another business in Hong Kong.
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Mary admitted she was a mamasan, but rather than judge her, the friend, a Christian, told Mary that Jesus came to save the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.
The friend offered to study the Bible with Mary. “All of a sudden something pinched my heart,” recalls Mary. “But I was a millionaire. I was afraid to say no. I was afraid of getting cursed by God and that I’d lose my money.”
As she prayed, she felt cleansed for the first time. But she continued to struggle with guilt and shame.
What sealed her conversion was seeing her young nephew, who had been dying from cancer, healed after another friend, Rita, prayed for him.
This convinced Mary there must be a higher power and she invited Rita to Hong Kong to speak with her girls, hoping for more miracles.
For the next month and a half, they conducted Bible studies every day. Around 10 girls “experienced a new hope and the power of God and the girls were healed of their emotional pain, anger, depression, drug addictions and alcoholism”.
“All of a sudden their countenance changed, their attitudes and characters changed. They had so much hunger to learn about the Christian faith.”
Mary began to use the karaoke bar she owned as a meeting place for the women to learn about their new faith during the day. At night it continued to function as a bar for prostitution.
One by one the girls quit their work, as did Mary – after 17 years in the business, she paid her boss HK$200,000 so she could leave. “I knew it was time to quit because of my conviction. I felt so bad and couldn’t walk into the club. I didn’t care if I didn’t have money or a job.”
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