HIROMI OCHI WRITES – Prostitution is a complicated situation in Singapore. While prostitution is legal, pimping and soliciting are deemed illegal. The government of Singapore has adopted a pragmatic approach to this issue. Former Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng, famously said in Parliament in 1999 that “criminalizing prostitution will only drive such activities underground, resulting in crime syndicates taking control over such activities.” Therefore, the Singaporean government hopes to contain the issue by centralizing the issue of prostitution to certain areas of Singapore known as Designated Red-light Areas.
In today’s society, the Singaporean government is seeing an increasing amount of vice operators who are starting to take their business online. Concern for this is reflected in Singapore’s law changes to the Women’s Charter in 2016 with the inclusion of Section 146a. This new section is a direct response to how the internet has affected the way prostitution crime syndicates now operate, specifically targeting those who operate or maintain websites that offer sexual services or allow prostitutes to advertise. Those convicted can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to five years, or both.
However, this has not deterred these vice operators who have continued their operations, from setting up their websites overseas. They curate girls from all over Asia, predominantly from the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Malaysia to work in their online operations.
With the invention of mobile applications such as WeChat and Whatsapp, several vice syndicates have taken advantage of these platforms, setting up profiles and advertising the sexual services of these women. Many of these women who have entered Singapore on social visit passes, are not subject to health check-ups. These operators also commonly advertise their services on popular Singapore forum sites such as www.hardwarezone.com and the notorious Sammyboy forum (sbsg.net).
Many Singaporeans are now realizing that this problem has hit close to home, as many of these vice operations operate out of residential neighborhoods. Vice operators have exploited the low rentals of government housing flats. They operate so discreetly that many neighbors are unaware of the audacities going on next door.
However those that are aware have spoken up. One delivery driver, Jasman Samad, who lives below a unit suspected of vice operations said, “With all these strangers about, I’m very concerned about the safety of my family. The authorities should do something.”