Underage girls selling sex through Instagram

Social media networks like Instagram and WeChat have made it easier for Hong Kong's sex workers to find clients and arrange meetings. Charity workers believe such online convenience has enabled more younger girls to try out the sex trade.
Social media networks like Instagram and WeChat have made it easier for Hong Kong's sex workers to find clients and arrange meetings. Charity workers believe such online convenience has enabled more younger girls to try out the sex trade.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • For Hong Kong's "part-time girlfriends", social media provides an easy way to connect with clients looking for sex, but campaigners against this practice warn that online convenience is tempting girls as young as 13 to put themselves at risk.

The label "part-time girlfriend" is a euphemism often used by young women in the city who may be studying or have jobs, but who also offer sex on the side.

By using variations of the hashtag #ptgf, they connect with men on networks such as Instagram to offer services and arrange to meet.

Instagram says it has made #ptgf and #hkptgf unsearchable, but a host of new alternatives circumvent the block.

Loneliness, curiosity, family breakdown and financial pressure are key motivators for young women to try it out, according to support workers on the ground.

Kiki, a pseudonym she chose to protect her identity, started part-time sex work at the age of 17.

She admits that she was nervous about meeting strangers, but the financial incentive outweighed her doubts. Kiki said she charged HK$300 (S$50) for dinner or "touching", and up to HK$1,000 for other sexual services.

After less than a year, she gave up because she had started a new relationship.

Nicole, also a pseudonym, started at 18 to make money to put herself through college. She found clients on online forums then communicated directly with them via popular messaging app WeChat.

The 24-year-old now has a full-time office job, but still does after-hours sex work to pay off her college debts.

She described sex work as a "dark patch" in her life and said she would feel guilty about it with any future boyfriend.

Ms Bowie Lam, executive director of Teen's Key, a charity that offers support to Hong Kong's sex workers under the age of 25, said the age of "part-time girlfriends" is getting lower, and she believed that social media is a factor.

Hong Kong police said they have taken action to combat illegal prostitution activities online. The act of prostitution in itself is not illegal in Hong Kong, but soliciting is.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline 'Underage girls selling sex through Instagram'. Print Edition | Subscribe