Last week, a Singaporean sex worker reported that she was threatened by the Singapore Police Force when she tried to report someone who sexually assaulted her. She dialled triple nine when a guy groped her breasts and her crotch and then refuse to apologize when confronted. Thankfully, she managed to get a picture. When the police arrived, not only did they not give chase to the perpetrator, they questioned her as if she was a criminal. They told her that they know she’s a sex worker as they see her all the time. So if she were to pursue the case, they will have to charge her for soliciting first. She had no choice but to drop the case. She asked me, what if this guy goes out to sexually harass other people? Will the police take responsibility?
Last week, a Korean sex worker contacted Project X to tell us that she was forcefully deported from Singapore by the security personnel of the hotel she was staying at. She also had S$2,500 stolen from her by the same people. They told her not to call the police and that she’s considered lucky. We encouraged her to make a police report but she decided it was too much of a risk.
Last week, a Chinese sex worker contacted us to ask if she could repeal the lifetime travel ban imposed on her because she worked in a regulated brothel in Singapore. She said that she was deceived—she thought she was coming to work as a waitress but only found out when she arrived that she was to work in a regulated brothel. Unfortunately, she signed a contract with the Singapore Police Force and agreed that she was not forced into the industry. She did so because she has about S$4,500 worth of debts to repay to her family and friends—money borrowed to pay the agent who facilitated her entry into Singapore.
About a month ago, LianHe WanBao—the local Chinese newspaper ran an article on transgender sex workers in Singapore. The reporters of the paper stalked the women for 2 hours, took unconsensual photographs of them, and published an article calling them “human demons”. Not once in the 2 hours did the reporters come out of their car to speak to sex workers and to clarify points that they made in the article.
About 2 months ago, a [undisclosed nationality] sex worker called us to say that she has been threatened by her ex-boyfriend, who decided to report her to immigration departments of various countries. She was subsequently deported from a country she was going to visit for a holiday.
About 6 months ago, a Chinese male sex worker called Project X to say that his client stole S$2,000 from him. The client was still in the hotel room but concierge refused to allow us to meet him unless we made a police report. Our client decided not to report to the police as he did not want to be deported and have a travel ban imposed on him, a move that would jeopardize even more income.
About a year ago, a raid at an illegal brothel resulted in a Malaysian sex worker jumping from the third floor in order to escape incarceration. She broke her ankle and had multiple abrasions on her body. We offered to send her to the hospital but she declined as she feared she’d be asked questions about why she was injured. We offered to send her to a private hospital but that did not make any difference in her mind. She eventually decided to wait 5 hours for her friend in Johor Bahru to drive down to pick her up to see a doctor in Malaysia.
What these real life cases reveal is the severe marginalisation of sex workers caused by the criminalization of sex work, sex workers, and the related activities. The point is that if nobody respects people working in the sex industry as equal human beings, human rights violations go unreported, emboldening the perpetrators. We need to start listening to sex workers as the problems they face are also problems that potential victims of trafficking will face. Traffickers are able to traffic because there is a lack of protection and lack of access to justice for people in the sex industry. Sex workers’ rights and trafficked victims’ rights are not two separate issues; they are two sides of the same coin.
Project X is an advocacy group for sex workers’ rights in Singapore. We believe that sex work is work, and that sex workers should be treated with dignity and respect. We seek to end stigma, discrimination, and all verbal, physical, emotional, and financial violence against sex workers.