Real life cases of victims

I was almost trafficked into sex work

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“It’s a nasty bar. Because a lot of girls there flirting for one guy and many girls together drinking. Naked and everything,” said Karen, unable to hide her horror.

By Thrina T.

Dressed in a flowery blouse and skinny jeans, donned in jewelry, with her dyed hair cut in a fashionable short do, Karen* flashes a sweet smile, giving nothing away.

Before we can begin, she nods her head at the door behind me. She watches as I close it properly shut before launching into how close a shave she had from being trafficked..

___

1 May, 4pm. Her first time in Singapore, she had a tourist visa but she was not here for holiday.

Karen, 24, had come to work as a waitress. Her friend from Cebu, 29-year-old Faith*, had also come to Singapore in hopes of a better job, and they flew in together.

Their confusion began just as soon as they touched down on Singapore ground.

Karen cleared immigration. Faith on the other hand, had an error on her embarkation form.

Although Karen wanted to stay by her friend, she was told by the “connection”, an agent, to leave the airport immediately.

The women were given fake credit cards and fake IDs to pass off as tourists in Singapore.

Karen exclaimed: “The connection here said, ‘don’t mind her, leave her already, save yourself, go there! You need to get out of the airport now because they might get concerned about migration the police or whatever.’”

Karen decided to follow her instructions, and was told to take a taxi to Superstar club at Duxton.

“So she just text me to go. I did not delete the message. Glad I saved it!” she exclaimed.

She was received by a man who put her on another taxi for her final stop -Eureka bar at Orchard Towers.

ESCAPING THE BAR

Upon arriving at the bar, Karen knew straightaway that it was not right for her.

“It’s a nasty bar. Because a lot of girls there flirting for one guy and many girls together drinking. Naked and everything,” said Karen, unable to hide her horror.

Karen was told that she would be safe working in a proper restaurant. Not only was she lied to, she was also told to immediately get to work, just hours after arriving in Singapore.

“I said no no. I’m very tired I still want to rest. So the bar owner said, okay you can stay there sleep there okay.”

“But when I stay to the locker room, the owner called me, ‘hey come here I need to introduce you to the businessman, the customer’.”

“I just go there. Ahh there’s a lot of girls flirting already,” recounted Karen, her head shaking in distress.

While Karen sat and observed the girls, there was a band that was coming on.

“The band boys keep on calling me to join them. They want me to sing with them.”

As Karen belted out to Evanescence’s ‘Bring me to life’, she noticed that the owner of the bar, as well as the guards, had all come inside the bar to watch.

After her two songs, the band continued performing and she noticed that no one was standing guard at the doors. Karen knew she had to make haste; it was her chance to escape.

She grabbed her luggage from the locker room, dashed out of the bar and the building.

“I just walked out of the bar without turning my head. This was my only chance to escape. I told myself just run and get into a taxi and I said, ‘Go toa payoh’ . I don’t even know where toa payoh is! But I sit there and finally I can breathe a little bit.”

“It’s May 2 already. I run away I cannot work in this kind of bar and get naked I cannot. Without knowing where to go, feeling hungry and scared and nothing in pocket.”

At Toa Payoh, she tapped into the Wi-Fi at a hawker centre and waited for friends on her Facebook to reply. Finally, a cousin of her friend who was working in Singapore responded. He picked her up at Toa Payoh and together, they went to the airport to get Faith.

SECOND ORDEAL

The two women stayed for four days at the house of Karen’s cousin’s friend. All that time, they looked for work, but in vain.

Karen explained: “We tried to look for some kind of decent work. We are looking for domestic helper work, but we didn’t get it. So my other friend said, ‘hey just work in a bar. This is a decent bar.’ So we go again, to 5 star pub.”

But it was no different from the first bar. “They’re acting this. But after an hour they will get wild. It’s crazy.”

Karen’s first customer on her first night at the bar was a businessman from the UK, David.

“It’s God’s will that we met each other. David said, ‘huh really it’s your first night here? I can help you.’”

Karen was on her guard and found it hard to trust anyone. But she put her trust in David. He paid the bar fine of $300 for each of the girls and took them out of the bar.

“You know that the owner said that the bar is a friendly bar. They are not allowed to bar find and stuff. But how? How david bar find us?”

Their ordeal was finally over. David introduced them to his Canadian friend, Lester, who brought them to HOME which sheltered them.

Both fail to hold back their tears when asked about their families.

“We’re just staying at shelter and do nothing and our family is expecting money and they are expecting also that we’re working. I just want to go back home. Because we can’t do anything here,” said Karen.

Faith says the same: “I just want to go home. Because they (family) don’t know about us.”

[HOME’s Note]

Karen and Faith were very fortunate to have escaped from becoming victims of sex trafficking due to Karen’s quick thinking. After due consideration, they have decided not to report their case to the police as they were uncertain if they might be charged for working without valid work visa even though they were deceived by their agent and the bar owners in Singapore.

They have both returned safely to their home country. With HOME’s help, they are pursuing their cases against their unethical agent, Yolanda, who had almost succeeded in trafficking them into sex work.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the women.


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