Situation in Singapore

Prostitution per se is NOT illegal in Singapore.

In February 2009, ex Senior Minister of State Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee said that,

As members are aware, prostitution is not an offence in Singapore. We recognize that it is not possible to eradicate it and forcing it underground will lead to the greater likelihood of involvement by triads and organized crime, the trafficking of women, and public health risks.

However, prostitution-related activities are criminalised. This includes:

  • Soliciting in a public place for the purpose of prostitution (Misc Offences Act, Art.19)
  • Pimping or living on the earnings of a prostitute (Women’s Charter, Art.146)
  • Owning a brothel (Women’s Charter, Art.148)
  • Migrant Sex Workers or “prohibited immigrants” (Immigration Act, Art.8(3)(e)(f))
Male and transgender sex workers may face additional charges such as:
  1. Public obscenity (Penal Code, Section 294)
  2. Gross indecency or homosexual sex (Penal Code, Section 377A)

In practice, police unofficially tolerates and monitors a limited number of brothels (special licenses are issued by the Anti-Vice Police). Sex workers in such establishments are required to undergo monthly health checks and are given a yellow card (the “license”). The State does not publicly acknowledge this, however, through our investigative work, we managed to uncover some of the criteria for application for the yellow card:

  • You have to be between 21 to 35 years of age
  • You cannot be Malay or Muslim
  • You cannot be Male on your identification card (this includes pre-operative transgender persons)
Most workers under the yellow card system are migrants. They will have to sign a contract with the Anti-Vice police upon arrival. This agreement states that one will not break any local laws, and that once their contract ends, they will never be allowed to enter Singapore again even if just as a tourist. 
Workers under the yellow card system work full time–up to 6 days a week, compensation has to be provided if more off-days are required. Workers are not entitled to medical leave or any form of medical benefits–all health tests are undertaken with their own money. Brothels are not legally obliged to ensure that safe sex happens on their premises–in fact, there have been reports of brothel owners allowing unsafe sex.
All other sex workers who are not on the yellow card system are considered illegal. They are subjected to constant raids, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment and other forms of degrading treatment and criminalization. They also face entrapment where police officers pretend to be customers.
Key Issues faced by sex workers in Singapore
Public:
  • Members of the public–especially young boys and girls often come in packs in order to verbally assault and humiliate sex workers. 
  • Cases of outrage of modesty have been documented–where random strangers molest sex workers and then run away.
  • Rape and robbery cases have also been documented
Customers:
  • Many customers often request for unsafe sex, some even resorting to violence to ensure that. In an instance, they may initially agree to condom use, but during the service, they will hold down a sex worker and remove the condom. 
  • Customers do not respect the boundaries of sex workers as well as the terms agreed upon. This leads to sexual assault and rape. 
  • Customers have also been recorded to hurl vulgarities and insults at sex workers.
Law Enforcers:

It’s almost like when the police step into a red light district, they acquire an added sense of power, and they behave in ways that they would never behave when faced with a non-sex worker. – Illegal sex worker

  • Police officers often check the bags of sex workers, and use the possession of condoms against them. This may simply be a threat or intimidation, or they may even charge a sex worker because of condom possession.
  • Police officers have been known to destroy condoms and lubricants found in sex workers’ possession.
  • They may pretend to be customers in order to apprehend sex workers in a practice known as entrapment.
  • They resort to violence on occasion–it is well known in Geylang that police officers love to pull sex workers’ hair.
A full report of the discrimination and violence against sex workers is upcoming in July 2013. The worst part is that most sex workers do not have access to justice. If they report any of these crimes against them, police officers will turn around and ask them if they are guilty of soliciting. They will ask questions like “what were you doing there?”, “what job are you doing?”, and often will say “you deserve it.” This is discrimination, and it has allowed many perpetrators the privilege of impunity.

 

 

 

4 comments

  • Nick (5 months)

    You mean the yellow card holder cannot come back to singapore forever?

  • vanessa (5 months)

    It depends. We have documented people who have faced a 5 year travel ban, and people who have faced a lifetime travel. There have also been some people who were successful in getting temporary tourist visas to visit friends. The immigration department has a huge discretion in this aspect as the ban is not spelt out in the Immigration Act.

  • Nick (5 months)

    So if they successful got the visa, they can visit singapore again? How about if they are going to find other jobs in singapore or marry in singapore?

  • vanessa (4 months)

    Yup, some have managed to get tourist visas. I heard of some rare cases of being able to get married. But from what I understand, licensed workers have in their contract a clause that says they’re not allowed to get a Singaporean boyfriend or marry here.

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