Topless Vietnamese woman falls to her death
Early Friday (17 March 2006) at about 1.30 a.m., a young Vietnamese woman fell to her death from the 10th floor of a block of flats in Toa Payoh. She was barefoot and topless, but had a blue skirt on.
Pham Thi Truc Linh worked at a nightclub called Jazzy 51 in Joo Chiat, according to the Straits Times, 18 March 2006.
It didn't take long for the police to trace the owner of the flat and arrest him at his brother's place to which he had fled. The Sunday Times reported that he has since been placed under arrest for "wrongful confinement".
The Sunday Times revealed that the man had thrown the items down the rubbish chute in a fit of anger to prevent her from leaving. Neighbours had also heard raised voices, loud banging, then a piercing scream followed by a sickening thud.
Soon after discovering the body, the police found her lacy brassiere, boots and a black blouse in a rubbish bin. Her handbag, containing her passport, was found in the 10th floor flat. That's how they identified her. She was 24 years old.
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It doesn't take a genius to figure out that she was on a 2-week tourist visa to Singapore, and that she had agreed to provide sexual services for payment.
While prostitution itself is not illegal, a lot of activity surrounding it is. Section 140 (1) of the Women's Charter says that anyone who "lets for hire" any woman or girl "with intent that she shall be employed or used for the purpose of prostitution" may be jailed up to 5 years.
Likewise, anyone who "procures any woman or girl .... for the purpose of prostitution" is guilty of a similar offence. This, like the above, seems to be aimed at the madam, but conceivably, a prosecutor can use it against the client too.
Section 146 (1) also makes it an offence for anyone who "knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of the prostitution of another person". Here again, he may be imprisoned for up to 5 years. While this is clearly meant to apply to pimps, what if a bar always welcomes freelancers, but on condition that customers wishing to chat them up have to buy drinks for the girls as well? Is the business not indirectly dependent on the trade?
The Joo Chiat area is well known for bars with Vietnamese girls in attendance. It is naive to think that the bar owners didn't know what was going on even if they did not have a hand in arranging the business.
Brothel operators are in violation of Sections 147 and 148 of the Women's Charter for keeping and managing a brothel or "place of assignation".
The Hotel Act requires all hotels to be licenced, and as I understand it, one of the licence conditions is that rooms cannot be let out for less than 1 night. So hotels that have short-time rooms are risking their licences doing so.
The Vietnamese and foreign girls themselves are violating the law, not for prostitution, but for working while on tourist visas.
When everybody is operating in the shadows, then the one who least fears the police has the upper hand. Very often, it is the john, for while we see reports regularly in the newspapers of authorities rounding up foreign girls on suspicion of prostitution, and also of the police prosecuting bar-owners for various "immoral" activities, no one can remember johns being prosecuted.
The result is behaviour like this, as recounted by another Vietnamese girl who called herself Mary:
As you can see, the girls have no realistic recourse when they're cheated and physically assaulted.
We need to own up to the fact that our misguided laws create the conditions for such abuses to happen. Our priorities are all wrong when we focus on so-called morality rather than safety.
We need to recognise that paid sex is never going to go away, and given our relatively low level of domestic unemployment, the suppliers will to a large extent be foreign girls (and boys).
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What is the safest way to organise the
This is not rocket science. As in any other business that has to match buyers and sellers who do not know how much to trust each other, there are two simple rules
Applying the above rules, it means that the sex workers should be working out of bars, brothels ("places of assignation" in our legalese) or escort agencies, not freelancing. That way, there should at least be mamasans or papasans looking out for them.
The john should be required to make a deposit or advance partial payment before taking the girl out, with the understanding that an additional tip would be forthcoming depending on "service quality". The advance payment is really crucial because it strengthens the negotiating position of the sex worker. Better yet if it is deposited with the mamasan, so that the john cannot seize it back from the girl later. If the girl finds herself in a risky position, she must feel she can walk out of the situation without too severe a financial loss.
The contract should be that the sex takes place either at the brothel, massage parlour or at a short-time hotel. This is to ensure that help is near at hand if necessary. The story above shows how dangerous it can be for a girl to be taken to a home in some part of Singapore she's not familiar with. The reverse is also true. Recently a client was robbed and murdered in Pattaya by 2 male sex workers he had hired off the streets and brought back to his home.
A hotel is much safer, especially if all parties have to register their names at the front desk. There is traceability.
If the john, after leaving the bar with the girl, insists on taking her back to his home, she should have the right to walk away from him, and he should forfeit his advance payment.
Yet all of the above requires a major
overhaul of our laws. To begin with, we have to stop seeing sex as sin,
and see abuse by one person of another as the primary evil. Secondly, we
have to stop seeing the supervisory structure (the pimp and the madam) as
necessarily exploitative. Instead, they can be turned to advantage, as
middlemen and guarantors of a fair deal for both sides
Granted, pimps and madams can sometimes be worse than the johns in the way they treat their girls. To combat this, we have to create mechanisms for the girls to report such abuses and to leave their charge whenever they want.
Clearly, what is required is for every aspect of the business to be legal. The tourist should not fear being caught for prostituting - perhaps a special sex worker permit can be issued. The bars, brothel owners and supervisors and short-time hotels should not be operating in fear of the law either.
Instead there should be a new-found respect for fair-trading and fair employment, and every party should have equal and easy access to the law and police for assistance. The last thing we need is to push already marginalised people into helplessness, while we remain smug in our bourgeois morality.
© Yawning Bread