Increasing Access to Justice for Sex Workers: 2015 Report
In 2014, Project X started an Abuser Alert Program, a scheme that enables sex workers to firstly report crimes against them to us, and secondly to alert them to potential abusers as reported by others. This program was established because through the years that Project X has been on the ground, we realised that many sex workers do not report crimes against them for fear of repercussions (read more about one of our latest cases here). Our program was inspired by the Ugly Mugs program in other nations, and our documentation form was modelled after the format of local police reports as well as United Nations reporting requirements for human rights violations.
The objectives of this program are:
- To document and monitor the incidences of violence and discrimination against sex workers.
- To provide a platform for sex workers to speak out and share about the things they face in a space that is free from judgement.
- To provide an opportunity for Project X team members to educate sex workers about their rights and responsibilities, and to discern if there is room to seek justice.
When a worker reports to us, there are two outcomes. One, we create an alert containing the identifying traits of the abuser and notify others on our contact list to watch out for this particular person. Two, if there is enough to build a case, we will follow up either by accompanying the worker to make a police report, or to file magistrate’s complaint or protection order.
Our pilot in 2014 received a total of 40 reports. Out of these 40 reports, only four cases were reported to the police and on another three occasions, the police did not take the reports.
In 2015, we entered into a collaboration with the Law Society’s Pro Bono Services Office (PBSO) in an effort to strengthen our advocacy for access to justice. The program is titled “StreetSmart Initiative” and it where legal clinics are made mobile, allowing outreach to Singapore’s local and foreign commercial sex workers who fear stigmatization if they were to attend the more public clinics. (See news coverage here and here.) Legal workshops are also conducted at our centre in order to raise awareness about the laws in Singapore. We do this because we believe that knowledge can empower one to stand up for oneself and protect oneself from bullies and abusive people.
The StreetSmart Initiative and the Abuser Alert Program go hand in hand in order to encourage sex workers to take charge of their lives and to stay safe.
In 2015, we had 110 sex workers attend 12 legal workshops, and successfully referred two cases to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS). In 2015, we also received 72 Abuser Alert Reports. The breakdown of the profile of perpetrators and the types of violence inflicted are presented in the two graphics that follows. It is important to note that the increase in abuser alert reports is not an indication of an increase in violence. With marginalised groups such as sex workers, underreporting is the norm. As such, we are glad for a larger number of reports this year as it is indicative of workers being more willing to share with us their experiences. However, worryingly, out of these 72 cases, 76.4% of them were not reported to the police. This emboldens abusers as it is clear that most do not face repercussions for their crimes against sex workers.
Project X will continue in our efforts to empower sex workers by educating them about their rights and responsibilities, encourage greater reporting, and work to reduce the overall stigma and discrimination against sex workers. This in hope that one day sex workers will have the same access to justice as everyone else.