“They protect all but us”

“They protect all but us”


“They protect all but us”

“They protect all but us”


It was a Saturday morning in Geylang. Sheryl, a 27 year old Singaporean transgender sex worker was working over time because business was bad. But she didn’t think that it was going to be bad enough for her life to be threatened.

She managed to take a client after fair bit of bargaining from his side. This client only wanted to pay $50 when her rates are $150 per hour. At first, he walked away, hoping to find someone else who would accept his offer of $50. However, after walking around Geylang to no avail, he came back to her, but insisted on paying just $50. Sheryl told him, “for $50, I can only offer you a handjob.” He agreed.

But the client decided to renege on the agreement after receiving the handjob. He demanded for full service and Sheryl said it will cost $50 more. He got angry at this and demanded to get his $50 back. When Sheryl declined, he reached for her bag, in an attempt to rob it. Sheryl managed to grab on to the other handle of the bag and put up a fight. This enraged the client and he lunged at her, pushing her to the bed, strangling her. Sheryl said “he tried to kill me”. “I couldn’t even breathe.” She managed to utter “I’ll call the police”, but that did not faze the client, who responded “go ahead”. Eventually, fearing for her life, she relented and agreed to return him the $50 he initially paid for services rendered. However, the client didn’t loosen his grip, he made Sheryl reach into her bag while still being strangled, and only when he received the money did he let go.

We followed up with Sheryl and asked if she wanted to report the case to the police. She said no, “I don’t trust the police enough to report the case, especially since what happened to me.”

In 2013, Sheryl was charged with false statement. Sheryl was molested inside a lift at her block one night by her neighbour. She called the police. In a fit of anger, she exaggerated the events by saying that the perpetrator also stole $50 from her. She recanted her statement to the police the next morning but by then it was too late. The officer charged her for false statement and she was fined S$3000. However, the police never followed up on pursuing the case of the molester.

In 2014, Sheryl had a fight with a client who didn’t want to pay up. The client sprained her thumb in the tussle. She called the police, who advised her to seek medical attention and head down to the police station. However, because she reported the location of the incident as a hotel in Geylang, the officer concluded that she’s a sex worker, and told her that he will also have to open a case against her for soliciting. She hung up the phone.

From these two incidents, it is clear that Sheryl has lost faith in the police. In her words, she says that “To me, they don’t take me seriously because I’m a transgender. Unless I’m a real woman maybe they gonna take it seriously.” This is a sentiment echoed by many other sex workers. Just in the case of Sheryl, a molester and two men with violent tendencies have got away with impunity. However, because of this lack of faith in the police, we wonder how many more perpetrators have abused sex workers and did not face any repercussions.

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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.