Police violence including torture, arbitrary detention in labour camps and failure to investigate sexual violence by clients are leading to serious crimes against sex workers in Beijing and across China, a report by a human rights watchdog said on Tuesday.
The report also documented cases of abuse by government health officials including forced testing for HIV and violation of rights to privacy.
Prostitution is illegal in China but with the government allowing the unrestricted growth of the sex industry in the last few decades, estimates say there are at least four to six million sex workers in China.
But the illegality of their profession makes sex workers vulnerable to abuse, often blocking their path to justice.
"In China, the police often act as if by engaging in sex work, women had forfeited their rights," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) which compiled the 51-page report, titled: 'Swept Away: Abuses Against Sex Workers in China'.
"The government must abandon its repressive laws against sex workers, discipline abusive police, and end the suppression of sex workers rights advocates," Richardson added.
The government, according to the reports, maintains officially a blanket ban on sex work, viewing it as an "ugly social phenomenon" that goes against "socialist spiritual civilization," and treating it as a misdemeanor punishable by fines or short-term detention.
"Chinese police can also send suspected sex workers, without due process or a trial, for up to two years' detention in a 're-education through labor' camp or so-called 'custody and education' centers. While the government announced in January 2013 that it would 'reform' 're-education through labor,' there has been no similar announcement for the estimated 183 'custody and education' centers, holding more than 15,000 inmates, most of whom are women," the report from HRW - which is banned in China - said.
The report added that in recent years a number of NGOs have started to provide small-scale outreach services to sex workers. "But the government maintains a chokehold on this community of rights advocates, tightly curtailing their activities and subjecting them to police harassment and intimidation," the report said.