“I can have someone keep me company and get paid. So I thought why not?” Crystal (not her real name) looks back on how she used to view compensated dating when she first joined the PTGF (part-time girlfriend) industry at age 15, unsuspecting of the indelible pains that would later ensue. Another girl, Hedy, felt she had little choice but to make money through sex work, in order to pay off her ex-boyfriend’s debts. Each girl entered the industry for different reasons, but both wondered in retrospect – had they been given a fuller picture of their sexual rights in school, perhaps their journeys would have turned out differently.
The trauma of sexual assault A brush with death
Crystal, now 20, was diagnosed a few years ago with borderline personality disorder, triggered by an event she experienced in her first year of working as a PTGF. At the time, she was approached by a customer who offered to pay a year’s worth of money to sugar-date Crystal, claiming he only requests for hand jobs, and that she would not be forced to do anything against her will. However, when they met at the hotel later, she was raped, and received HK$500 only. The payment was far from the agreed price, but fearful for her personal safety, she did not dare to chase the outstanding amount and left.
A few days later, much to her dismay, Crystal received from the customer a secretly filmed video of herself getting dressed, and was blackmailed to meet with him again, or the video would be sent to her school. “I was terrified. Not knowing whom I could turn to, I ran to a flyover near home. I seriously considered jumping down to end it all,” she said. Fortunately, Crystal changed her mind and sought help. Accompanied by the outreach social worker of Teen’s Key, a local nonprofit organization supporting PTGF, she reported to the police. The man involved was eventually convicted and sentenced to imprisonment on the charges of criminal intimidation and rape of a minor. Yet, the suffering inflicted by his crime continued to affect Crystal: she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, and at one point, engaged in binge-eating to cope with her emotional instability, which caused her to drop out of school.
Now when Crystal recounts the appalling experience, she speaks about it cheerfully, as if it were someone else’s story, “I don’t wish to burden others. I really want to spread joy, and not be immersed in excessive sorrow for an event in the past.” After the ordeal, in the darkest time of her life, social workers of Teen’s Key stood by her side all along. Later, when she fell in love with someone, and revealed to him after considerable hesitation what she used to do for work, he was not bothered by it, and showed unwavering commitment to their relationship. “He appreciates and accepts me. Perhaps God wants me to be back on my feet too. History cannot be changed, but in happiness, I can put behind the past.” With the support of friends and family, slowly but surely, she began to heal. The incident did not rob Krystal of her dreams – with a diploma in Design, she aspires to create luscious lingerie for plus-size women in the future.
Body for rent to clear debt Longing for the end
Different from Crystal who has already left the PTGF industry, 25 year-old Hedy* remains active in the PTGF industry, but no longer sugar-dates on a full-time basis. She has taken on multiple other part-time jobs to diversify her income stream instead. “Growing old is inevitable. Would I be able to continue working this job when I’m older? Truth be told, I am not the type of girl who wants to be financially dependent on men. I know they are unreliable.”
Hedy shared that she only joined the industry just to pay off debt. “My ex-boyfriend and I used to live together. He took out loans under my name. When we separated, I was in debt for more than HK$100,000.” She crowded her schedule with work. During the peak of Krystal’s PTGF career, she used to take on three sex jobs a week, while filling the remaining gaps in her schedule with sugar-dating bookings, like meeting customers for lunch/dinner, go shopping, or to the movies. She had also been treated roughly by customers before. “Pinching and beating… all kinds of physical abuse … [it was] so painful! Those men didn’t come to deal with their sexual desires. They were venting their rage through inflict violence,” yet, Hedy forced herself to endure. She has now paid off most the debt, and is diligently saving, “it’s most pragmatic to be self-dependent after all,” she said.
Heartened new beginnings Promoting sexual rights education
Though she no longer works as a PTGF, Krystal still occasionally goes online to keep tabs on other PTGFs’ activities on social platforms. She was shocked to discover that “girls as young as 12 and 13 year-olds are already engaging in sugar-dating. The youngest PTGF I have ever came across was just 11 years old. Some of them would post very explicit nudes that clearly show their face!”
While Krystal believes that sex work is work, she thinks that it is due to the inadequacy of school-based sex education, that young girls in the industry often lack awareness to protect themselves, and think too lightly of the sex work as a profession, even oblivious to where the risks and dangers lie. “I was like that back then. Why is it not different for younger girls these days?” Seeing stagnant progress in Hong Kong’s sex education, through Teen’s Key, Krystal began giving school talks to share with students her experience as a former PTGF. With hopes to support other survivors using her personal experience, she wishes to pursue further studies in Sex Education and Law next.
Hedy also gained better knowledge about her sexual rights from using Teen’s Key’s services. “My school took a strong stance against students dating, and bring up sex was out of the question. It was only during Biology class in Form 5 that we were briefly taught how to use contraception… Students, of course, dated in secret. Back in the day, I thought loving someone meant satisfying their every request. I didn’t know how to reject my partner, even when I did not feel comfortable. I only understand now that I always have the option to say “no”, and that I should never have to resign myself to situations that don’t sit well with me.” Hedy thinks that if her school had provided her with proper sexual rights education back then, particularly on ways to build healthy romantic relationships, perhaps the trajectory of events would have been different.