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By using variations of the hashtag ptgf as shorthand, they connect with men on networks such as Instagram then switch to direct messaging to offer services and arrange to meet. Instagram says it has made ptgf and hkptgf unsearchable, but a host of new alternatives that add Chinese characters or initials to the original tag circumvent the block.
Loneliness, curiosity, family breakdown and financial pressures are key motivators for young women to try it out, according to support workers on the ground. High-school student Kiki, a pseudonym she chose to protect her identity, started part-time sex work aged 17, saying it was easy to search for men on Instagram by using one of the ptgf tags.
She admits she was nervous about meeting strangers, but the financial incentive outweighed her doubts. Now 19, she says she is left with a sense of regret and warns other girls to think carefully before taking the leap. Sometimes they meet clients without offering sex at first and are taken to theme parks, dinner or even on hikes, but as more money is offered, the path usually leads to paid sex.
However, even when they are given support by the charity, some feel they cannot leave part-time sex work behind. Nicole, also a pseudonym, aged 24, started at the age of 18 to make money to put herself through college. She found clients on online forums then communicated directly with them via the popular messaging app WeChat. She now has a full-time office job, but still does after-hours sex work to pay off her college debts as her family cannot afford to help. A human rights assessment, 29 years after the Tiananmen Massacre.
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