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2020-11-25 06:31:57

One of China’s most widely used online recruitment platforms is hosting job ads for “secretaries” or “nannies” whose responsibilities are later revealed to include providing sexual services, according to an investigation Monday by The Beijing News.

Though sex work is illegal in China, an estimated 10 million people in the country remain engaged in the profession. Many major Chinese apps, from livestreaming platforms to e-commerce sites, have been used to advertise and recruit for sexual services. Although they face continuous pressure from users and the authorities to clean up such content and improve their screening mechanisms, some still slips through the cracks.

Monday’s report examined suspicious-looking posts on Boss Zhipin, a job site with 60 million users that’s partly owned by tech giant Tencent. The platform’s key service is connecting prospective applicants directly with recruiters and company bosses.

Earlier this month, Beijing News reporters applied to 20 vaguely worded listings on Boss Zhipin with titles like “assistant to CEO,” “private nanny,” and “life secretary.” After connecting with seven recruiters, they were explicitly told that the jobs required providing sexual services or procuring other women for sex work.

One job ad, “China Rolls Royce Club special assistant,” was posted by an account called Global Wealth Elite Club that boasted of its connections to the U.K. and the Rothschilds. After inquiring about the position and adding the post’s contact person on messaging app WeChat, one reporter was told she would be paid 100,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan ($15,000-46,000) to sleep with their client up to three times per month.

The reporter arranged to meet the recruiter for an interview at a hotel’s café in downtown Beijing. When she arrived, she was ushered into a black minivan in a parking lot. Inside the vehicle, two men asked her a number of private questions, including about her sexual experience, and requested that she submit to a sexual health check.

“For this job, you need to be nice and obedient,” says the older of the two men in a covertly recorded video. Seemingly in response to the reporter’s apprehension, he adds: “This is a rule of law society — do you seriously think we can abduct you?”

Later, after one of the men tries to touch the journalist’s breasts, she abruptly stops the interview and exits the vehicle.

Other, similar jobs including one posted by a “housekeeping company” required that applicants be willing to accompany clients on nights out and provide sexual services to company bosses on business trips. Such requirements are not found in the postings themselves, but conveyed during further discussion with the “recruiter.”

The Beijing News’ report added that this year, women in major cities such as Beijing, Hangzhou, and Nanjing have come forward to share their own harrowing experiences about applying to jobs advertised on Boss Zhipin that they thought were legitimate but turned out to be escort work.

In May, a user on microblogging platform Weibo identified as Yanyan posted about applying for a job as an assistant secretary in the southern Guangdong province. Following several meals with the employer and his clients — to test her manners and etiquette, she assumed — her married boss began touching her while driving her home, and asked if she’d be willing to act as his secretary and girlfriend for 8,000 yuan a month.

“I was shocked to the core,” Yanyan wrote. “You have to be extra careful when interviewing for secretary jobs.”

After The Beijing News reported on one illicit job, Boss Zhipin deleted the ad within half an hour — but the posting from Global Wealth Elite Club involving the black minivan and grabby “recruiters” remained open.

In a response to The Beijing News’ investigation, Boss Zhipin said it had taken down all of the job ads mentioned in the story and is in the process of cracking down on other such listings.

Rooting out advertisements for sexual services and pornography can be a major headache for apps and websites in both China and the West, where short-video app Snapchat and online directory Craigslist coming under scrutiny for hosting questionable content. Through employing a host of constantly evolving euphemisms and slang terms, many illicit parties are able to stay one step ahead of regulators and content screeners.

Last month, short-video platform Douyin, as TikTok is branded in China, announced that it had deleted 836,000 accounts found to have violated platform policies, 428,000 for posting pornography or offering sexual services. And from August to September, another popular Chinese video app, Kuaishou, said it had deleted 147,000 accounts for similar reasons.

Domestic media have also reported that sex workers, pornography, drugs, and fetish items such as used stockings could be purchased through Xianyu, the secondhand platform of Alibaba-owned e-commerce site Taobao — though most such content has since been removed.

Responding to The Beijing News’ investigation, some Weibo users suggested Boss Zhipin had been irresponsible for allowing such postings for so long, and should upgrade its content moderation practices.

However, most users expressed sympathy for the well-regarded site, arguing that it’s the people advertising such work who should be blamed.

“It’s not that the software has gone bad,” one user commented below the article. “Rather, it’s that it’s being exploited by bad people.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: People Visual)