PROSTITUTION IN SINGAPORE

PROSTITUTION IN SINGAPORE

In Singapore, prostitution is legal but pimping and public solicitation are not. In several government-regulated red-light districts Indonesian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Indian and Chinese women legally pursue customers in brothels, karaoke lounges and massage parlours and are required to carry health cards and submit to medical checks. But soliciting for sex on the street is illegal. In places like the Top Ten disco in the early 2000s mostly expatriate men rendezvoused with Thai prostitutes. In the mid 2000s, private social escort firms openly advertised the services of “young, energetic and intelligent girls” in their 20s for S$150-$200 an hour or S$1000 a night. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, September 17, 2006]

Philip Lim of Agence France Presse wrote: Singapore has long been perceived as a conservative, even prudish, city-state but it has a thriving sex industry dating back to its beginnings as a key trading port of the then British empire. Brothels operate openly in Singapore in the notorious Geylang red light district, and self-declared prostitutes are required to undergo health checks. While prostitution is legal in Singapore, soliciting for customers isn’t and offenders may be fined as much as S$2000 or jailed for as long as six months, according to the city-state’s statutes. [Source: Philip Lim, Agence France Presse, April 28, 2012 ^=^]

The Singaporean government takes pragmatic approach to prostitution. Instead of closing down the sex industry it aims to tightly regulate the trade to protect minors and ward off criminal involvement. “Singapore's legalisation of the sex trade makes it a "pragmatic" and "unusual" exception in a region where prostitution thrives but is officially banned, said Reuben Wong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore. "We recognise that it is not possible to eradicate it and forcing it underground will lead to the greater likelihood of involvement by triads and organised crime, the trafficking of women, and public health risks," Ho Peng Kee, then a top official of the interior ministry, told parliament in 2009. Wong told AFP: "Prostitution was legalised to bring this sector under close government control -- for economic, moral, tax reasons.... The main overarching theme is we keep it under government control." ^=^

Japanese Prostitute Era Paved over

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, many Japanese women came to Singapore to work as prostitutes known as "Karayuki-san." Takehiko Kajita of Kyodo wrote: “ Karayuki-san were Japanese peasant girls -- mostly from the Shimabara Peninsula in Nagasaki Prefecture and Amakusa Islands in Kumamoto Prefecture -- who were sold into the flesh trade in colonial Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. Japan was a poor country a century ago, and women were one of its major exports, along with silk and coal. Karayuki-san, together with other Japanese women who served as prostitutes elsewhere, including Siberia, Hawaii, Australia and some parts of India and Africa, were said to be the third-biggest foreign currency earner for Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Former "Karayuki-san," or Japanese prostitutes, are buried under a number of small tombstones at Japanese Cemetery Park in Singapore. Some of the streets that formed the former Japanese red-light district in Singapore remain in a huge commercial complex called Bugis Junction. [Source: Takehiko Kajita, Kyodo, June 18, 2005 +++]

“The existence of Karayuki-san in Singapore dates back to 1877, when there were two Japanese-owned brothels on Malay Street with 14 Japanese prostitutes, official Japanese data show. Malay Street and the nearby streets of Malabar, Hylam and Bugis later grew into a big red-light district. Singapore's official records suggest 633 Japanese women were operating in 109 brothels in 1905. The number is believed to have been well over 1000, if unlicensed prostitutes are included. Combined with the far larger Chinese-dominated red-light district and other similar districts catering to different ethnic groups, Singapore was known as one of the centers of the sex industry in Asia in those days. +++

“As Singapore started to develop around the 1870s, immigrants -- mostly men -- rushed in from China and India to toil at rubber plantations and tin mines or as rickshaw pullers. To maintain social order, British colonial rulers tolerated prostitution at designated brothels, bringing in Chinese and Japanese women in droves. As Japan's international profile rose with victories in the Sino- Japanese War in 1894, the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 and its having sided with the victors of World War I, Japan began to view Japanese prostitutes working overseas as a national shame. In addition, successful Japanese business operations in British-ruled Malaya, now Malaysia, lessened the need for foreign currency earned by Karayuki-san. So the then Japanese Consulate General in Singapore banned Japanese brothels in 1920. +++

“Consequently, many Karayuki-san were forcefully repatriated to Japan. But many others managed to stay in Singapore or move to other parts of Malaya, illegally selling themselves. Four decades later, a young Japanese woman who settled here after marrying a Singaporean one day encountered a former Karayuki-san by chance and was shocked to learn about the tales of Japanese women working abroad. Up until the 1980s four or five former Karayuki-san survived in Singapore. But not any more. +++

“Gone with the Karayuki-san is the Japanese red-light district. Ironically, the entire district is now a giant commercial complex that houses a department store run by Seiyu Ltd. and a shopping center operated by Parco Co, both Japanese companies. Malay, Malabar and Hylam streets remain, but they are now merely passages under the roof of a structure called Bugis Junction, a popular spot with young Singaporeans that also houses movie theaters and the Hotel Inter-Continental. Traces of Karayuki-san are more evident at Japanese Cemetery Park, where countless -- and largely nameless -- Karayuki-san are buried along with other Japanese. +++

“Rumiko Motoyama, a 37-year-old bridal consultant who spent her early teens in Singapore, came back in the late 1990s to what she calls her "second hometown." She visits the cemetery every summer during Bon, the Buddhist festival for the dead, to pay tribute to the deceased Japanese in Singapore, including Karayuki-san. "I respect the Karayuki-san. They lived hard in unfamiliar places where they couldn't understand local languages. They must have been so strong," she said. "As a Japanese living in Singapore, I'm grateful to the Karayuki-san, because I feel their hardships form a cornerstone in my mind on which I can live happily now," Motoyama said.” +++

Designated Red-light Areas and Karaoke Lounges

On “Designated Red-light Areas” (DRA) and other places where prostitutes ply their trade, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Scattered all over the island today are about half a dozen red light districts. Top of the hot spots is brightly lit, lower Geylang Road, dotted with budget hotels and “love nests” (S$10 an hour) and roadside restaurants (good food). “Geylang is a large area where up to 200 girls from all over the region, a mini-United Nations, gather until pre-dawn,” he said. There are massage parlours with two-way mirrors and pink-coloured lights that measure up well to Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, May 30, 2004 *~*]

“A Western journalist says there are about 400 brothels in the city, each with about 10 to 20 prostitutes, or a total of 6000. They carry a yellow health card and must report in “regularly” for medical checks. But there are thousands more who are unregistered “freelancers” walking the streets or working with their pimps. Blue-collar workers seek their fun at cheaper, darkly lit bars and karaoke places (some are ill-disguised brothels) that dot the landscape. Others make a quick trip to nearby Batam (Indonesia). *~*

“More expensive fun can be found in some six high-class karaoke lounges (up to 1500 sq m) furnished with high chandeliers, huge neon signs, fountains, and leather sofas, and boasts of 100 young ladies from China. The hostesses are said to be young, nubile and willing, and the mama sans can earn S$12,000 a month, or what a new graduate earns in six. *~*

“A local reporter wrote of his visit to the Tiananmen, where he met a businessman emerging from one of its 39 rooms. “He has just settled the S$850 bill for three-and-a-half hours of entertainment for himself and his two friends,” wrote the reporter. And like their country’s role in Singapore’s economy, the biggest contributors to its nocturnal fun are the mainland ladies. At least 10,000 of them, who came on student or work passes, play a dominant role in the city’s night-scene, providing tough competition to rivals from South-East Asia.” *~*

Street Walkers in Singapore

In 2004,Fayen Wong of Reuters wrote: “On a residential street corner on the outskirts of Singapore's red-light district of Geylang, a van pulls up beside two women in the evening dusk, both dressed in revealing blouses and hip-hugging skirts. Moments later, 27-year-old Ming opens the van's door and disappears. Her friend, 30-year-old Yeh, waits for another customer. Both are tourists visiting from mainland China, and both are the vanguard of a new trend in the oldest profession. [Source: Fayen Wong, Reuters, October 12, 2004 ^^]

“Prostitution is expanding from red-light urban districts into the leafy suburbs, propelled mostly by mainland Chinese women on tourist visas and fuelling a growing underground sex industry in a country known for prudish laws and orderly living. The trend follows a blossoming in ties between Singapore and China, nourished on ethnic bonds, and is provoking a groundswell of public criticism as prostitution spills out of legal and tightly regulated brothels. ^^

“The focus on sex-for-hire in Singapore has been further sharpened by a book "Invisible Trade" on a thriving world of high-class prostitution in Singapore. "People generally have this perception that Singapore is a squeaky clean, prim and proper kind of place so they tend to be very surprised when they find out that there is a thriving escort industry here," the book's author, Gerrie Lim, told Reuters. In a report titled "China hookers are now in your neighbourhood", the Straits Times newspaper thrust the issue into public debate in July, describing prostitutes who single out elderly men in residential areas.” ^^

Chinese Prostitutes in Singapore

In 2004, a US State Department report said that Singapore had a "significant" trafficking problem involving women and children. Fayen Wong of Reuters wrote: “Singapore's government refuted the report, which put the Southeast Asian island on par with Cambodia, China and Indonesia as "countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards" to eliminate trafficking of women and girls for sex. [Source: Fayen Wong, Reuters, October 12, 2004 ^^]

“Singapore's Chinese-language media has branded the new wave of prostitutes from China as "roaming nightingales" or "liuying" in the Mandarin dialect, an analogy to birds known for singing at night. Newspapers report cases of worried housewives escorting their husbands home from work to prevent temptation. The reports touched a raw nerve. Some alarmed residents urged their leaders to raise the issue with China. "Bilateral ties with China are no doubt important but we should not compromise our social values by allowing the prostitution problem to get out of hand," wrote Tang Li Shan in one of a series of complaints to local media. ^^

“In China, an industrial boom has triggered rural unemployment and a range of vices -- from prostitution to human trafficking. Singapore, whose population is Asia's third-wealthiest and 77 percent ethnic Chinese, is a natural magnet. Hoping to tap the new wealth of Chinese travellers, Singapore relaxed immigration rules in January, doubling the days Chinese can stay to 30 and allowing more tour agencies to obtain visas. The impact was immediate. Mainland Chinese were Singapore's fastest-growing source of tourists from January to June. In the same period, the number of foreign sex workers arrested shot up 50 percent, police data show. Most of the women were from China. "It's my first time here," explains Yeh, an affable, soft-spoken women who looks about 5 years beyond her age. "I've stayed for about 20 days." She says she earns about S$300 each day. "I will have to leave when my social visit pass expires." ^^

“The lure to work Singapore's streets is strong. The island's annual per capita income of about $21,000 dwarfs China's by about 25 times, and Chinese prostitutes charge S$30 to S$100 for a tryst -- far below the S$100 to S$200 in most brothels. Human rights activists caution that a public backlash could single out mainland Chinese women who themselves are victims. "When these women are arrested, it is important to ask if they should be treated as victims or as criminals," said Edward Job, president of One Hope Center, a non-governmental organisation that helps prostitutes get out of the trade. "Those who are forced into prostitution look to Singapore as the land of milk and honey. They borrow money to come here in hope of decent work but only to find themselves landing in debt and in prostitution," he said. ^^

“The US State Department's annual report on human trafficking, issued in June, said Singapore did not consider it had a major problem in sex trafficking and criticised it for lacking a plan to deal with the issue. It reported seven cases of alleged forced prostitution in 2003 and two convictions. Singapore's government said only two of 18 reports of forced prostitution in 2002 and 2003 were substantiated, describing them as "very rare".” ^^

Prostitution and Singaporean Youth

In 2005, DPA reported: “Increasing numbers of young girls in Singapore are offering sex for sale on Internet chatrooms, shrugging the transaction off without any remorse or fear of AIDS. Although the situation here is less dire than in Japan, counsellors and social workers cite cases of girls as young as 13 having no qualms over paid sex to obtain pocket money. They blame the nonchalant attitude on neglectful parents, the lack of stigma on losing one's virginity, the pervasive message of one-night stands on television and advertisements that encourage instant gratification, according to the Sunday Times. [Source: DPA (German News Agency), October 24, 2005 +=+]

“Internet chatrooms make it easy for girls to befriend teenage boys or men, said counsellor Ong Lea Teng of the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association. "The thinking of some girls is that since they are doing it, they might as well get something out of it," she was quoted as saying. Often they want to buy things their parents cannot afford: mobile phones, the latest fashions or recreational gadgets, she said. "With so much material temptations around them and so much desire for instant gratification, sex for money is inevitable," Deline Koh, a senior social worker at a family service center, told the newspaper. +=+

“There are no figures available on the trend, but Ong said hotline calls from girls asking if it is all right to have sex for money have quadrupled in the last two years. Koh cited the exploits of a 15-year-old girl who used chatrooms to settle her boyfriend's debts by having paid sex with three men. A court was told last week that a 14-year-old girl who needed money to pay bills had sex with at least five men. They were convicted of having sex with a girl younger than 16. Counsellors urge parents to start building bonds when their children are in primary school instead of waiting until their teens. "It's very tough to get into their world by the time they reach 13 or 14," said Want Toy Leng, manager of a girl's home.” +=+

Paid Sex, Teenage Girls and the Internet in Singapore

In 2008, The Strait Times reported: “More girls are also experimenting with sex, some as young as 10. In 2006, teenagers accounted for 12 percent of about 12,000 abortions performed in Singapore. Of these, 19 were carried out on girls below 15, according to the Health Ministry. More girls between the ages of 10 to 19 are also contracting sexually transmitted infections. In 2006, more than 500 of such cases were diagnosed at the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Clinic - a three- fold increase from five years ago. [Source: Joan Chew, Chia Mei Liang, He Xingying and Ong Dai, The Straits Times, March 22, 2008 <+>]

“The Internet is also used by girls to hunt down men willing to pay - in cash or branded goods - for sex. Popular advertisement websites such as SgAdsOnline and Craigslist Singapore carry advertisements of teenage girls offering one-night stands for fast cash. Others use sexy blogs as a tool to hunt down Sugar Daddies willing to pay for a 'relationship'. <+>

“One 17-year-old, who calls herself a 'teenage Lolita', documented her sexual experiences and said she is looking for a man who can give her $500 per meeting. She wrote that she is 'not poor' but 'hankers after the better things in life'. 'I'm not selling my body. I call it a mutually beneficial relationship,' she declared in one entry. Others post photographs of themselves in skimpy outfits on social networking websites like Friendster and Facebook. Teen blogger Celeste Chen thrusts her hips suggestively in a midriff-baring blouse in one MTV-style video posted on her blog. The 17-year-old schoolgirl's Friendster profile features a wallpaper of her in a backless top, matched with black hot pants and high heels. <+>

Girl Who Prostitutes Herself on Internet, Has Sex with 80 Men

In 2003, AFP reported: “A 15-year-old girl in Singapore had sex with up to 80 men by using an Internet chat room to prostitute herself, the Strait Times reported The newspaper said nine men had been arrested for having sex with the girl in the first seven months of last year, and seven had been jailed, although it was believed she had had up to 80 "clients". The girl, who used the name "Ariel" and posted her phone number in the Internet chat room, initially said she wanted to "meet new friends", according to the Straits Times. When the men phoned her, she told them she was aged 15 and that she was willing to have sex with them for between $80 and $400. She reportedly met them at various low-budget hotels. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 29, 2003 |+|]

“The paper said her operation came unstuck when she made a report to police that one of her "clients" had stolen $150 from her. Sources close to the case said the girl was a local high school student who decided to charge money for sex partly for companionship as well as money. The Straits Times said one of the men, Terence Li, 20, had chatted with the girl on the Internet for a month before they had sex on her 15th birthday in April last year. |+|

“The girl did not charge Li for sex, according to the newspaper, and the source said she tried to keep in contact with him when he was posted overseas for work. "I thought maybe we could have a relationship," the Straits Times quoted Li, who was fined $10,000, as saying. "I really, really regret this. My life has been a living hell since this happened." The girl is now 16 and in a girls' home, according to the Straits Times. Under Singapore law, the penalty for having sex with a girl under 16 is up to five years' jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.” |+|

Women Trafficked to Singapore Lured into Prostitution

In 2008, AFP reported: “Three weeks after having her appendix removed last year, Filipina bar girl Camille was forced by her pimp back to work as a prostitute in Singapore. Penniless and deeply in debt in a foreign land, 24-year-old Camille, not her real name, had no choice. She says she had sex with men in hotel trysts arranged by her pimp, who took most of the money, until she sought shelter at the Philippine embassy. "My wounds barely healed and I was being forced to have sex," she told AFP, breaking into sobs during an interview before flying home earlier this year. "The pimp had no pity. The men had no mercy. I should have listened to my parents not to come here." [Source: Agence France Presse, September 1, 2008]

Philippine embassy officials said Camille, a single mother, is among a growing number of Filipina women lured by human trafficking syndicates to Singapore, Southeast Asia's wealthiest economy. Promised jobs as "entertainers" in pubs and restaurants, many instead find themselves virtually indentured as prostitutes, working to pay back the cost of getting here. Women interviewed by AFP said they were locked in cramped apartments, given one meal a day and told they owed between S$1000 and $4000 (US$736-$2945) to their pimps for bringing them to the city-state.

The Philippine embassy in Singapore said there were 212 cases of human trafficking involving Filipinas in 2007, up from 125 in 2006 and from 59 cases in 2005. Of those 212, nearly 30 percent admitted to having engaged in prostitution or said they were coerced into sexual acts, it said. Filipino consul Neal Imperial described the numbers as the "tip of the iceberg" as they reflected only women who turned to the embassy for help.

The US State Department, in its 2008 Trafficking in Persons report, put Singapore on its list of countries not doing enough to combat the problem. Cambodia and Sierra Leone were among others named. The report urged Singapore, which has yet to ratify the 2000 UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, to "vigorously investigate and prosecute both labour and sex trafficking cases". Responding to the US report, Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs said reported cases of forced prostitution fell to 28 in 2007 from 33 in 2006 and 35 in 2005. Police investigated all 28 cases and found evidence in only one, the ministry said.

Human trafficking experts said Singapore's figures differ from the US report because the police do not consider women as trafficking victims if they arrive voluntarily. In contrast, the United Nations counts women as victims if they are lured by false promises about working conditions, and if they are exploited. Singapore should accept there is a problem, said Sallie Yea, an Australian consultant who has researched sex trafficking in Asia. "Singapore is still in the denial mode."

The island-state is an attractive destination, experts said, because women can enter without a visa on cheap flights. John Gee, of the non-government group Transient Workers Count Too, said acknowledging that human trafficking exists could be embarrassing for the government, which likes to perpetuate Singapore's squeaky clean image. But he said the government's bid to maintain that image could push it to tackle the issue. "I'm optimistic that Singapore will actually rise to the challenge and deal with it," he said.

Singapore's Forest Brothels

Singapore is a choice destination for many Thai 'working girls', but an unknown number end up being trafficked to remote locations on the edge of the city where they are essentially held as sex slaves. Erika Fry wrote in the Bangkok Post, “Not far outside central Singapore, across from one of the city-state's foreign worker dormitories, is a small forest. It appears ordinary enough - just trees, separated from the pavement by a steep embankment. If one looks closely, there is a trail; and if one is curious enough, it leads to a clearing that even at first glance, appears - part-dump, part-deserted camp - not quite right. There's a spirit house at the base of a ribbon-wrapped tree, and just beyond that a cache of futons that have been flung in the brush. Tree branches are knotted with plastic bags. The site is strewn with beer cans, water bottles, planks of cardboard and a tremendous number of condom wrappers. [Source: Erika Fry, Bangkok Post, October 12, 2008 /*/]

“Yet what looks abandoned and random by day is reassembled and ready for business by night. The futons are brought out of the brush and laid on the cardboard mats, and a group of Thai ladies are brought in - either from forest hideouts or cheap hotels in Singapore's red light district - and lined up on a log bench. There, they'll wait for their customers - Bangladeshis, Thais, Indians, an international coterie of foreign workers, almost all of whom will wander over from the dormitory across the road. During the course of the night, a woman might service 20 men. She'll dispose of the condoms in the hanging plastic bags and wash herself using the water bottles provided. The air will be thick with mosquitoes, and she'll have sex, with ambiance and privacy provided by a tarpaulin, for S$10 or S$20 a session. /*/

“However un-Singaporean this may sound, such sites - also known as "forest brothels" - are long-established and relatively common in the tightly-regulated city-state. Usually located in wooded areas surrounding Singapore's foreign worker dormitories (these tend to be zoned in areas on the outskirts of the city), the sites serve as one of the few - also the cheapest - sexual outlets available to the hundreds of thousands of men that migrate to Singapore on annual construction contracts (there are an estimated 43,800 from Thailand). A handful of Thai workers who lived at a variety of Singapore's worker sites, and were well-connected with the Thai community there, estimated that several hundred women work in Singapore's forest brothels at any one time. /*/

“The sites are also the destination for a number of Thai women - by almost all standards (though not Singapore's) trafficking victims - whose migration stories have usually taken an unanticipated and sinister twist. Though the story comes in countless variations, the women working in the forest camps are almost invariably doing so against their will, says Bridget Lew, founder and president of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), an NGO in Singapore that runs a shelter to assist foreign workers. "No one wants to be there," she says, explaining that the women have been drawn through deception, and are then held captive in a "circle of fear". "They don't know where to run," she says. "They are in the middle of the forest in a country they don't know. They are scared of the authorities because they are foreigners." /*/

“While anecdotal evidence suggests many of these operations exist, and persist largely due to Singaporean policy - what many call its "blind eye" approach to trafficking and the strict sexual code that governs its migrant workers - little is being done to stop them or amend policy. "It's quite complicated," says Dr Pattana Kitiarsa, a Thai anthropologist who teaches at National University Singapore and who has studied the issue extensively. "These women know what job they are on, but can't accept the conditions. It becomes a trafficking problem because the women can't stand, and were not prepared for the conditions. They expect to work for clients, but were not expecting to sleep on the ground with mosquitoes and no toilets." He adds that in many cases, the women are held in debt bondage to the agents who brought them to Singapore. /*/

“Pattana explained that the nuances of the situation, that sometimes the women intended to work both illegally and in the sex industry, are at the heart of Singapore's argument that this is not trafficking and that such women are criminals, and not victims. Those interviewed for this story (a Singaporean police officer among them) speculated that policing of forest brothels is rare because they are silent, out-of-sight operations that don't cause trouble for Singapore or its citizens.” /*/

'Brothel Village' in Indonesia Caters Mainly to Sex Tourists from Singapore

In 2000, Associated Press reported from Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia: “From the mangrove swamps and jungles of Indonesia's Riau Islands, Singapore's steel and glass skyscrapers are visible on the horizon - gleaming symbols of another nation's wealth. The islands draw thousands of Indonesians in search of jobs in Singapore-backed factories and resorts. But many who come end up as prostitutes in 'brothel villages' hacked out of the jungle, catering mainly to sex tourists from Singapore. 'My sister and I were tricked into coming here. I thought I was coming to work in a disco as a waitress,' said 18-year-old Egy, who said she was forced into prostitution to pay off the syndicate that brought her to the islands. [Source: Associated Press, December 1, 2000 **]

“Indonesia's hunger for development and Singapore's prosperity have provided a potent formula for economic growth: the islands are dotted with lavish resorts and industrial parks. But the combination has also created a flourishing sex trade. The proximity of wealthy Singapore, just a 20-kilometre (12-mile) ferry ride away, is a natural resource for the Riaus. The islands are far cheaper and faster to reach for Singaporeans than more traditional sex tourism destinations such as Thailand and the Philippines, which are frequented more by Europeans and Americans. **

“Two Riau islands known as Bintan and Batam, especially, have become seedy escapes from Singapore's strict social confines, and a dangerous lure for Indonesians seeking a better life. 'Weekdays, a lot of older men come here from Singapore. They tell their wives they're on business, or fishing,' said Ianow, watching TV and waiting to be chosen by clients and taken to hotels. Most of Batam's sex tourists are Singaporeans. But many from Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan often make short detours to the island during holiday trips to Singapore, said Evan Jones, an Australian who owns a restaurant in Nagoya. **

Women who Work at the 'Brothel Village' in Indonesia

According to Associated Press: “Many young women get trapped in the Riau Islands' sex trade by debts to the organized crime rings and brothel owners who bring them in, said the Rev Felix Supranto, dean of the Riau Islands Catholic Church in Nagoya. 'People say to the girls: 'What do you do in your village? You can come with me to Batam, work in a factory, make big money.' They are clever, sweet talkers,' he said. [Source: Associated Press, December 1, 2000 **]

“In Bintan's 'Kilometer 24', a village supported entirely by prostitution, an unmarked turnoff from the potholed, muddy main road suddenly becomes a modern paved lane leading into the jungle. The lane is lined by about 100 tidy, colorful houses, each fronted by a stand selling soft drinks, beer and snacks. When a vehicle enters the village, hundreds of smiling and laughing young women rush out of the houses and try to yank open the doors. Brothel owners and local authorities set up the village in 1992 to contain Bintan's growing prostitution problem and keep it away from ordinary towns on the mainly Muslim island. **

“About half of the women in Kilometer 24 are conned into coming or bought outright from their parents by syndicates, largely in Indonesia's West Java region, said Bintan police chief Agus Setiyoko. The rest come on their own seeking jobs, he said. Many of the women fall ever more deeply into debt to the crime syndicates and brothel madams because they get to keep little of the cash handed over by customers. Egy said that after her promised waitress job fell through, she owned 1 million Indonesian rupiah (US$112) to a syndicate. Now her debt is 1.5 million rupiah (US$168). five times the official minimum monthly wage earned by many on the Riau islands, and it keeps growing as she struggles to pay 600,000 rupiah (US$ 67) to her madam for monthly room and board.” **

High-class Sex Business in Singapore

In 2004, Jeanine Tan wrote in Today, “One of her favourites is a man in his 70s who never demands sex but likes her to dance for him. Sometimes, he dances the Macarena for her — stiffly. With other clients, there is usually sex. The kind that would send polite company fleeing. Group sex. Bondage play. Asphyxiation. Simulating necrophilia. Emily has done it all. Emily, 28, is a Singaporean who makes her money acting out the fantasies of her clients. [Source: Jeanine Tan, Today, June 19, 2004 ~]

“Emily is a sex worker. She does not operate in the lorongs of Geylang but in luxury hotel rooms in the Orchard Road area. Her world is one the average Singaporean knows little about. As a high-class social escort, Emily can earn up to $1000 an hour for "extra" services. Her clients come from all over the world. What they have in common is money — lots of it – and an appetite for sex, often kinky sex. Emily, and others like her, are featured in Singapore writer Gerrie Lim's book Invisible Trade, an insider look at "high-class sex for sale in Singapore." ~

“Mr Lim, who splits his time between Singapore and Los Angeles, is the international correspondent for porn network AVN Online. He has also written for Billboard, Playboy, the South China Morning Post and the Wall Street Journal. Invisible Trade comes six years after the late David Brazil's No Money, No Honey, a paperback guide to prostitution in Singapore that sold more than 20,000 copies. ~

“Mr Lim's book tells the inside story on the lucrative escort agency business in Singapore and how it balances on the fine line between legal and illegal. Escort agencies are perfectly legal businesses, and there are clients who really only want company or someone to pose as a girlfriend for a few hours. Often, though, sex is the real purpose. One agency owner quoted in the book calls this "extending the booking". Some agencies offer it almost openly as "discreet companionship", costing more than the regular "dinner companionship". One agency Today spoke to said that discreet means "full service", stopping short of mentioning sex. ~

“The agencies insist that they play no role in facilitating sexual services, which is a deal struck only between client and escort, although they do collect fees for the extra hours with their girls. And these extra hours can be spent fulfilling some strange sexual fetishes. The escorts come from around the world – Singaporean, Mongolian, Eastern European. Mr Lim writes about a Hong Kong-based professional dominatrix who makes frequent trips to Singapore to service her clients here. The women, some of whom have fulltime day jobs, work in Singapore's ritziest hotels, right under the noses of hotel staff. Some escort agencies advertise their services on websites. There is never any mention of sex, but at one website, the vital statistics of social escorts are listed beside photographs of scantily clad bodies. No faces are shown. At another, the cost for dominatrix services is listed at $650 for two hours. Mr Lim also explores the world of gay male escorts, and karaoke hostesses. ~

Security Cameras Scare Prostitutes from Red Light District

In 2005, AFP reported: “Surveillance cameras installed in a red light district in Singapore have scared off prostitutes and affected legitimate business in the area, a report said. Shopkeepers in the Geylang district complained business had deteriorated since the cameras were put into operation last week, the Sunday Times reported. "The men are staying away because they're afraid of being misunderstood by their wives, while our women customers are staying away because they don't want to be mistaken as prostitutes," Joyce Low, who runs an acupuncture and foot reflexology business in the area, was quoted as saying. The manager of a clothing store, Simon Chan, also said business had been affected with sales down by 60 percent. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 3, 2005 /~/]

“Prostitutes told the newspaper they were deliberately avoiding streets in the Geylang district that have surveillance cameras in operation. "We were warned by our boss not to go over there because of the cameras," said one prostitute from Shanghai, China. Prostitution is legal only in licensed brothels in the city-state. /~/

“Police announced in February closed-circuit television cameras would be installed in Geylang to combat crime and illegal prostitution following the installation of 30 cameras in three popular entertainment areas -- Boat Quay, Little India and Newton hawker centre -- in 2003. Surveillance cameras have also been installed in other areas frequented by the Western expatriate community including Boat Quay, a row of pubs and eateries in the financial district, as part of measures to forestall any attacks. Singapore sees itself as a target for terrorists because of its support to the US-led war against terror and the government has beefed up security measures throughout the city-state since the September 11, 2001 attacks. /~/

Singapore Charges 48 in Underage Prostitution Scandal

In 2012, a scandal involving a minor selling sex to men in Singapore snared a former bank executive, a school teacher and the member of a prominent family. Sanat Vallikappen and Andrea Tan of Bloomberg wrote: “Juerg Buergin, 40, a former executive director of operations at UBS AG (UBSN) in Singapore, and Howard Shaw, 41, part of the family that built a movie production and real estate empire, were among four men charged at the downtown Subordinate Court yesterday for paid sex with an underage prostitute. [Source: Sanat Vallikappen and Andrea Tan, Bloomberg, April 18, 2012 \=/]

“The four add to the 44 charged by the police for the same offence earlier this week in a list that included a former grade school principal and police superintendent, according to the Straits Times. The latest charges came one day after ECA International said Singapore kept its ranking as the most livable city in the world for Asian expatriates. “These charges against important people are an important step, but it’s clearly just touching the surface of a larger problem,” said Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University. “The problem that Singapore is facing is that a lot of its economy is moving into the sin areas. The challenge for the government is to strengthen the regulations around the sectors.” Singapore dropped its four-decade ban on casinos as Las Vegas Sands Corp and Genting Singapore Plc (GENS) opened their gaming resorts in the city-state two years ago. \=/

“Shaw, who didn’t enter a plea, declined to comment, and Selva K. Naidu, a lawyer at Liberty Law Practice LLP representing Buergin, said his client also hasn’t entered a plea. Buergin is in remand, pending bail of S$15,000 (US$11,984), the court was told. “In this case, the scale is just quite amazing,” said Paulin Straughan, a sociology professor at the National University of Singapore. “All the publicity on the issue would serve to send a very strong signal and warning that even though the minor may be willing, that’s a minor.” \=/

“The offence for paid sex with someone under 18 carries a maximum seven-year jail term as well as a fine. The city-state also amended its laws in 2006 to make it an offence for Singaporeans to have commercial sex with minors overseas. The four men charged paid between S$450 and S$750 for each encounter with an underage prostitute in locations ranging from an apartment in eastern Singapore, downtown budget hotels to the more luxurious Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La, according to the police charge sheets. “From a sociological perspective, the concern is: Is this just the tip of the iceberg,” Straughan said. \=/

Philip Lim of Agence France Presse wrote: “Prostitution is legal in Singapore, but 48 men ranging in age from their early 20s to late 40s have so far been charged under a 2008 law making it a crime to pay for sex with a girl under 18. An elementary school principal who pleaded guilty to engaging the under-aged girl's services became the first to be punished when a district court on Friday, Apr 27, sentenced him to nine weeks in jail for the offence. [Source: Philip Lim, Agence France Presse, April 28, 2012]

Among the remaining accused are five foreigners including Juerg Buergin, a 40-year-old Swiss expatriate who had worked for banking giant UBS. The most prominent of the Singaporeans charged is Howard Shaw, a high-society figure and grandson of Runme Shaw, co-founder of cinema and property empire Shaw Organisation, which is also active in charity causes. The gossip mill went into overdrive when it was disclosed that Shaw, a 41-year-old with two daughters from his first marriage, had sex with the teenager just a month before tying the knot with his second wife, a former beauty contestant still in her 20s.

The two appeared on a recent cover of high-society magazine Singapore Tatler as the poster couple for an article on "great romances" among the rich and famous in the city-state. Singapore websites and social media are swirling with speculation that more men will be charged even as the identity of the girl, only 17 when she had dalliances with the accused, is being concealed by court order. People have also been sharing purported pictures and salacious descriptions of the girl, described by a defence lawyer as a "hardcore prostitute".

But apart from generating juicy gossip, the high-profile case has also won the authorities plaudits for their rigorous handling of the issue. "This is the first time that cases of obtaining paid sex from a girl under the age of 18 has been exposed and enforced on such a large scale," said rights group the Singapore committee for UN Women. The under-age prostitution scandal was "an embarrassment for Singapore as a society, because it has such a squeaky clean, puritan image," but reflected well on the state's strict laws on the sex business, he said.

Hundreds Gather for Singapore 'Slutwalk' Protest

In 2011, Alex Kennedy of Associated Press wrote: Hundreds of people gathered at a park in Singapore on Sunday to protest sexual violence against women as part of the global "SlutWalk" movement, in a rare public demonstration in the tightly controlled city state. The event featured live music, speeches and a women's Muay Thai martial arts exhibition at downtown Singapore's Speakers' Corner, the only public outdoor space where demonstrations are allowed in the Southeast Asian country. Participants at the rally did not dress provocatively as some activists have in SlutWalks in US and Canadian cities. "The idea was not to vamp it up, because women can get raped regardless of what they're wearing," said Vanessa Ho, who organized the event with six friends. "We're trying to raise awareness against victim-blaming and slut-shaming." [Source: Alex Kennedy, Associated Press, December 5, 2011]

SlutWalk marches have been held in cities around the world, including earlier this year in New Delhi and Sydney. The protests originated in Toronto, where they were sparked by a police officer's remark that women could avoid being raped by not dressing like "sluts." In Toronto and later Boston, several women marched in lingerie with the word "slut" painted on their bodies.

Singapore has strict controls on public speech, and outdoor demonstrations are rare. Corinna Lim, executive director of the Singapore women's rights group Aware, said many sexual assault cases go unreported, especially date rape. Aware recently started a hotline for sexual abuse victims and offers to accompany women to the police and the hospital after an assault. "The family of the victim will sometimes say, 'What were you wearing?'" Lim said. "Singapore women have modernized quite quickly in a short time, but Singapore is still a very conservative society."

Lim praised last month's decision by authorities in Singapore to abolish a law that allowed a woman's sexual history to be examined during a rape trial. Women account for about half of the country's university graduates and hold a few high-profile positions in the business community, including Chua Sock Koong, chief executive of Southeast Asia's largest phone company, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. However, men dominate the leadership of the People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since 1959.

"The world is dominated by males, so there's a male mentality," said Esaint Chiang, a 21-year-old student who attended Sunday's protest. "I think it's a good idea to bring awareness to these issues, but I like that they're not being so provocative, playing by the rules and not pissing off the authorities too much." Ho, 24, said she lives with her parents but did not tell them she was organizing SlutWalk because of their conservative values. "My parents are averse to anything that tries to poke at the system or shake the status quo," said Ho, who has a master's degree in gender studies from University College London. "But this cause is worth it to me."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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