In Defense of Orchard Towers

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Ever since the gruesome and cruel murder of Mr Satheesh Noel Gobidass at Orchard Towers on 2nd July 2019, a barrage of articles attempting to shed light on the reality of the building has flooded media channels. 

It is understandable that many people are curious as to how such a sensational murder could have taken place in our city. However, it is illogical and narrow-minded to pick apart the building for answers, and even more so to pin the cause of violence on everyone else but the perpetrators. 

The Straits Times’s Calvin Yang lamented its “fall from grace” in its print edition. Channel News Asia’s Lin Suling outrightly called for the elimination of Orchard Towers from our landscape, calling it incongruous and bordering on disgraceful. Mothership’s Nyi Nyi Thet painstakingly compiled all the violent incidents documented at Orchard Towers, while trying to contrast its current state with its more “family friendly” origins. 

Project X has been at Orchard Towers for the past 3 years providing support and services to the mostly women in the nightlife industry. We asked them how they felt about the portrayal of Orchard Towers, and they were indignant. As put by one lady, “the murder doesn’t even concern us!” These women are equally afraid of violence and to insinuate that they are a contributing factor to it is simply unfair. To point to the “sleaze” as the cause for violence in the space is simply to add salt to the wound. 

More importantly, to draw a straight line between people trying to make a living and alleged murderers is unconscionable. It is dehumanising.  No similar dissection of a place has taken place with murders elsewhere. What happened on 2nd July could very easily have happened somewhere else. Orchard Towers, and the people who work in it, are not the problem.

Every country has its own “Orchard Towers”, and such entertainment venues are by no means out of the ordinary. In fact, they are an integral part of a city’s landscape, and shop owners speak of the interdependence of the tenants in the space. The recent coverage of Orchard Towers has been sensationalist, unproductive, and brings unwanted attention to the very real people who work in and patronise the establishments there. 

Let’s condemn the troublemakers who drink excessively. Let’s condemn the violence in this case. Let’s condemn those actually guilty of a crime, rather than tarring everyone with the same brush. 

Let’s not condemn Orchard Towers, for it is very much part and parcel of Singapore – our people, our economy, and our lives. 

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Vanessa Ho

Executive Director | [email protected]

Executive Director
[email protected]

Vanessa has been full-time with Project X since 2011, and as a result, has had many opportunities to meet and connect with sex workers in Singapore and around the world. Under her leadership, the organisation has grown from a small group of volunteers to one where there are three paid staff and a team of over 60 volunteers. Correspondingly, she has increased the annual operating budget of the organization five times, and is now recognized as the leading organization that empowers and assists women in the sex industry.

Vanessa has written and spoken extensively about sex work, human trafficking, rape culture, and LGBTQ rights in Singapore. She believes that if people can speak about sex, gender and sexuality in open and in non-judgmental ways, society will become a safer place for everyone.

Vanessa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Warwick, and a Masters Degree in Gender, Society and Representation from University College London.