ISWRD-2016

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Today, 3rd of March is the International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

At 2am, Project X received a phone call from a 50 year-old Singaporean cisgender female sex worker (Ruby) who had $250 stolen from her by her client. She wasn’t sure if she had the right to call the police, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to explain her occupation. We gave her some advice about her rights, and encouraged her to lodge a police report.

This afternoon, we accompanied her to the station. She became very hesitant and afraid upon arrival. She still wasn’t sure how to explain what she was doing in a red light district. She used many different words like “working girl”, “taking customers”, but the officer wasn’t sure what she was talking about. Finally, she said in a hushed and slightly defeated voice — “pelacur”, or “prostitute” in Malay. She was so worried she asked the officer, “are you going to charge me [for prostitution]?”

Thankfully, the officer said in Malay “I won’t charge you — that is your job.” The officer continued, “What is important is the person who stole your money.”

Ruby broke down at these words by the officer. She told Project X after the statement that she already planned what to say if the officers decided not to take her case or threaten to charge her instead. She would have said “If you don’t take my report, he will do again to another person. Maybe he has already done this to other sex workers. Today he stole from me, tomorrow maybe he steal from someone else.”

Ruby was visibly happier. She couldn’t stop smiling after we left the station. She recounted to me how in the past some officers have scolded her, and said stuff like “you know what you’re doing is wrong”. To finally be believed, and to have one’s right to justice restored, is an emotion many of us will have a hard time empathizing with.

Today 3rd of March is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. The theft committed by the client shows us that many people still don’t respect the rights of sex workers. But the professionalism of the officer shows us that there might be hope for a world where there is equal access to justice for everyone.

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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.