Monday, February 10, 2014

Study sheds light on sex trafficking in Singapore

 Feb 10, 2014

Victims either lured here by friends or were already prostitutes elsewhere

By Toh Yong Chuan And Janice Tai

AN INDEPENDENT study of sex trafficking victims has shed some light on the murky world of the unregulated sex trade here.

It found that victims from the Philippines were lured to Singapore by friends and acquaintances on the pretext of jobs such as waitressing and hostessing, before ending up in nightclubs.

Some Indonesian victims, meanwhile, were already prostitutes in Batam before coming here to ply their trade on the streets and budget hotels, under the watchful eyes of local pimps.

The 144-page study, released last week, was conducted by Singapore-based academic Sallie Yea, an assistant professor of geography at the National Institute of Education, who interviewed 87 women tricked into coming to Singapore.

It also provided a glimpse into the women's conditions here, all of whom "were denied decent food and living conditions", which led them to "feelings of lethargy, depression and fatigue".

They had to pay off debts, and their passports were withheld. Some were even forced to have unsafe sex.

"I always ask my customers to use a condom, but they nearly all refuse... because they paid for me, so they can do whatever they like," the report quoted a 17-year-old Indonesian as saying.

Dr Yea, an Australian, said she conducted the study because "the current state of knowledge about trafficking in Singapore is remarkably paltry compared with that in all its Asean neighbours, most of which are significant source countries for trafficking to Singapore".

Most of these women entered Singapore on tourist visas. And when they were caught, they were treated as immigration offenders, which Dr Yea said made things worse for the victims.

While being investigated by the authorities, the women were not allowed to find legal work or return home, which makes them vulnerable to being lured back into the sex trade.

Countries such as Australia have a witness protection visa specially for trafficking victims, said Ms Vanessa Ho, a coordinator at Project X, a volunteer outreach group that protects sex workers' rights. The visa lets them remain in the country and find work.

Besides the visa system here, Dr Yea also took issue with a government task force formed to combat trafficking.

"The referral process for non-governmental organisation to direct possible trafficking cases to the task force, in particular, is fraught," she said.

But the study lauded a move to introduce a dedicated anti-trafficking law here, describing it as "an opportunity to better support victims of trafficking".

It is the brainchild of MP Christopher de Souza, who plans to introduce it to Parliament as a private member's Bill next year. Such private Bills by MPs who are not Cabinet ministers are rare.

Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, a board member of migrant workers group Transient Workers Count Too, said it is important to take into account the different experiences of sex workers here when coming up with legislation.

She said: "Our experiences show that some women are exploited, but because they are not considered to be trafficked, they are not granted protection."

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