This account is based on the facts of a case seen by HOME. We have changed her name to protect her identity.
“I was in my last year at university, living with my sister and supporting myself doing part-time modeling work. I didn’t have much money but I enjoyed my studies and the modeling was fun. I had even been on a few international modeling shoots in other countries and was planning to make a career out of it.
This was a great change from some years earlier when I had suffered from recurring epilepsy. Once, I was hospitalized, unable to function or barely recognize myself, but things had since improved.
Everything changed when I came to Singapore.
I had met a new modeling agent who told me that he could get me a 15-day job in Singapore. I was told I would make $800 – a lot of money to me, and enough to pay for my rent and studies.
I thought ‘Great, it will be like the other trips I did – I’ll get see new places and make some good money!’ . I contacted the woman from the modeling agency in Singapore, who made the job sound so good that I couldn’t wait to go. I packed my bags and when I got to the airport the local agent gave me US$500. He was rude and creepy and he said ‘You know, if you want to be a really famous model, you’ll have to do more than just look pretty’. I didn’t listen to him and got on the plane.
When I got to Singapore the lady from the modeling agency met me at the airport. She was smiling and seemed very pleased I was there. She took my passport and the US$500 dollars and took me to her house. It wasn’t a nice house and didn’t look like an agency.
I asked her when the first shoot would be but she just laughed and said I wasn’t there to do modeling, I was there to do sex work.
I was so terrified. I just cried and cried. I said ‘I can’t do it, I have to go home’, but she said, ‘No, you must pay back your flight and your visa. You must see six clients then you can go home’.
I am a Muslim girl and the shame of such a thing was too much. I couldn’t call my family for help since I was too ashamed. I wanted to run away but I didn’t know anyone in Singapore. The lady kept the door locked and whenever I left the house she would follow me.
She made me sleep with men in a dirty hotel. It was so horrible- I can’t bear to think about it again.
They paid me lots of money but the lady took it all, except the tips. One of the men told me it used to be the lady who did the work but now she rented out pretty girls. When I asked her, she got really mad. She hit me with her shoes and pulled my hair. My epilepsy flared up and when I had a fit, she hit me again. I had one fit that was so bad I had to go to hospital. I spent all the money I had made in tips on my treatment.
When I had seen six clients, I asked to go home. But the police came and caught us leaving the hotel. The lady told me I must not say her name and ran away. I told them though and they let me go.
I had nowhere to stay so I went back to her house. When I said I had told the police her name, she went really crazy, hitting and scratching me. I was so scared but I had no choice.
I wanted to go back home but the police told me I was required to stay in Singapore as a witness. HOME took me in into their women’s shelter. I was so confused. I couldn’t sleep, I felt so angry and ashamed. In the chaos, I had left my epilepsy medication at the lady’s house and my fits started again. In the hospital, I cried and cried. I just wanted to go home.
I thought the Embassy would help me so I went there but they turned me away.
My family was calling and asking me why I was still in Singapore. But I couldn’t tell them. My memories of the last few days are unclear. Luckily, HOME helped me when I needed a doctor and they also helped me to get home.
I can never tell my family what happened even as I must forever live with the shame.”
Despite her obvious need for medical attention and three instances of hospitalization, Jane received no financial support. Her medical bills were passed to HOME for payment but were eventually absorbed by the hospitals she visited.
Once the police had established she was no longer required as a witness and could leave Singapore, her flight home was paid for by a generous donor contacted by HOME.
A shelter for trafficked victims has to be more than just a temporary place with food and a bed. Medical and psychological aid, a sense of security and also affirming the dignity of the women including the freedom of movement are what a shelter must offer to help the victims on their road to recovery.
Singapore’s anti-trafficking law states only temporary shelter and counselling services under assistance to victims. More must be done to help victims rehabilitate. #Stoptraffickingsg
To support HOME’s work with migrant women in distress, pl go to http://www.home.org.sg/donate.html