Sex work is legal in Singapore, right?
Sex work per se is not illegal. In February 2009, former 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, that does not mean that sex work is legal. First and foremost, migrant sex workers are by definition “prohibited migrants” (Immigration Act, Art.8(3)(e)(f)). In addition, many sex work-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)
Male and transgender sex workers may face additional charges such as “gross indecency” (Penal Code, Section 377A)
If owning a brothel is illegal, how come there are so many in Geylang?
In practice, the police regulates and monitors a limited number of brothels. In particular, the Specialised Crime Branch of the Singapore Police Force issues licenses to brothels and provides clearance for brothel sex workers to acquire a Work Permit. Sex workers in such establishments are required to undergo monthly health checks and are given the infamous “yellow card” (literally—it is a yellow coloured card). The State does not publicly acknowledge this, however, through our work, we managed to learn of some criterion for application of 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)
- You have to be from a list of approved countries (i.e. China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore)
Most workers under the yellow card system are migrants. They will have to undergo an interview and sign a contract with the police upon arrival. We understand that some workers were asked at this point if they have been coerced into this industry. Amongst other things, the agreement states that one will not break any local laws, and that once their contract ends, they will face a travel ban lasting between three years to a lifetime. Other terms and conditions include not soliciting outside one’s designated brothel, not loitering in public spaces, and not to have a Singaporean boyfriend.
Workers under the yellow card system work full time–up to 6 days a week and 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 and violent raids, harassment, intimidation and other forms of degrading treatment and criminalization. They also face entrapment which is where police officers pretend to be customers.
What issues do sex workers face?
Read more in detail in our annual reports
Types Of Cases we have seen in 2018:
Why do sex workers choose this line? Don’t they know the risks they are exposing themselves to?
Different people are brought up with different opportunities — meritocracy is not foolproof. The fact is, for many sex workers, sex work is the best opportunity available. Every job (whether you are blue collar, white collar, or home based) has its set of risks, and every worker learns to negotiate those risks. It is not any different for sex workers.
All sex workers are trafficked.
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
On the basis of the definition given in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it is evident that trafficking in persons has three constituent elements:
To ascertain whether a particular circumstance constitutes trafficking in persons, consider the definition of trafficking in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the constituent elements of the offense, as defined by relevant domestic legislation.
Read the United State’s Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for Singapore here.
Singapore passed the “Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2014” in order to tackle all forms of trafficking—labour, sex, and organ trafficking. To conflate consenting sex work with sex trafficking is to firstly, undermine and disrespect the consent of sex workers; secondly, to be looking in the wrong places for victims of trafficking. That said, we also do not believe that “human trafficking” frame is useful. People in the sex industry (and many other industries such as the domestic work and construction industry) face a range of exploitative conditions that results from a lack of rights. To merely tackle the most severe crime is tantamount to ignoring justice for others; it results in many people not being “victim enough” to receive support and care.
Do sex workers truly enjoy their job?
Sex Workers cannot be raped, they must be lying
Sex workers are human beings too and like everyone else, have boundaries.
Why do you use the term “sex worker” instead of “prostitute”?
We use the term to recognize that sex work is work, and to respect the labour involved in the work. The word “prostitute” has also evolved into a word with negative connotations and is often used as a derogatory term.
How many sex workers are there in Singapore? Are they all from overseas?
It is hard to put a number on this as many are informal and indirect sex workers. There are about 800 to 1,000 licensed sex workers in Singapore at any one time. A large majority of them are migrant sex workers. In 2014, the police arrested 4,886 sex workers and in 2016, 2,947. Singaporean sex workers make up a minority here.
All transgender women are sex workers.
Unfortunately, this is one misconception that is so deeply ingrained in society’s collective minds that trans women often face unwanted solicitations for sex and sexual services that is tantamount to sexual harassment. While there are many trans women who are in the sex industry, many others are in other forms of employment.
Where did you get all this information?
Project X has been in operation since November 2008 and all this information is gathered from speaking to workers and various agencies.