The trend of older men giving money or gifts to girls in exchange for companionship or sexual favors is becoming more and more popular among teenage girls in Hong Kong. The practice, called underage compensated dating, has also recently become underground and more difficult to track, according to police.
Now thriving in social messaging apps like WeChat and Instagram, transactions between parties have become more private and undetectable for authorities, reported South China Morning Post.
According to social workers, the girls do not think the act is a kind of prostitution as it usually begins not involving sexual intercourse. In such cases, teenagers rarely seek out help until the point where they have lost control of the situation. Sometimes, victims would only reach out when it’s too late after a “client” starts to blackmail them.
Hong Kong police Chief Inspector Frances Lee King-hei of the Family Conflict and Sexual Violence Policy Unit said teenagers see compensated dating merely as a business.
“They often think of themselves as entrepreneurs… and they market themselves,” Lee said. “But they overestimate their ability to control the situation. They think they are in control of the situation and say they have an agreement with their clients about boundaries and rules. But who would really adhere to those rules once you’re already out with that man?”
In Japan, where underage compensated dating originated, compensated dating usually just involves a meal or a movie. In Hong Kong, however, sex is usually part of the end game.
Girls would usually end up being forced to participate in sexual activities or raped, according to Lee. In some cases, Lee said, the girl’s “client” would blackmail them by threatening to post a secretly filmed sexual act or naked photo on social media.
“Teenagers nowadays report their whereabouts and daily routines on the internet, making them very easy to trace,” Lee said.
According to Lee, social media has given teenagers easier access to compensated dating, doing away with pimps or “handlers” as they can access “clients” directly themselves via Instagram, Wechat or Facebook.
“We got to know a case [through NGOs] in which a girl was shopping and found something she wanted to buy, but she didn’t have the money. She immediately found a client online and a few hours later got enough money to buy what she wanted,” Lee said. “It’s so easily accessible now… but the dangers are grave and things do go wrong … They are too young and immature to handle the dangers.”
Since last year, when Hong Kong police started collecting compensated dating statistics, 12 cases have been reported. According to police records, seven of those cases involved students with the youngest of them being just 12 years old. In the past six months alone, four underage rapes were filed, two of them resulting from online meet-ups.
“The reluctance to speak to the police is due to false information circulated on the internet about how the police would arrest the girls,” Lee said. “The truth is if an adult had sex with an underage person, it’s the adult who will be arrested, not the child.”
Eight years ago, in April 2008, the case of a 16-year-old girl Wong Ka-mui first drew attention to the issue in Hong Kong. She was brutally murdered after taking part in underage compensated dating.
In a call to parents, Lee gave a warning to monitor their children’s daily routine, including spending patterns.
“If your child suddenly has a lot of new clothes or handbags, you’ll need to think about where they’re getting money to buy them if it’s not from you,” Lee concluded.