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Lured by false promises

Deborah Choo /

Three months ago, Gabriella (not her real name) escaped from the pub she was forced to work at after being repeatedly engaged in sex against her will. The 31-year old Filipino was tricked into prostitution in Singapore under the notion that she was coming here to work as a waitress. On her work permit issued by the Ministry of Manpower, it is listed that she was employed by Dotcom Entertainment Pte Ltd as a Performing Artiste. Police investigations subsequently revealed that this company does not exist.

The US Trafficking in Persons 2009 report cited Singapore as part of a group of countries thatare not doing enough to address trafficking. The women illegally trafficked into Singapore usually come from neighboring countries in Asia such as Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and China.

According to the United Nations Global Initiation to Fight Human Trafficking, Asia has the highest number of 56 per cent (1.4 million) of the 2.5 million trafficked worldwide. 43 per cent of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, out of which 98 per cent are women and girls.

However the International Human Rights Report 2010 states that “Singaporean authorities misrepresent the number of trafficking victims by eliminating those who were deceived into migrating by false promises.”

Gabriella is a single mother of an autistic eleven year-old son. She came to Singapore with the sole purpose of earning more money to support her child’s education. She was recently diagnosed with leukemia and relies on pills to regulate her white blood cell levels.

Despite all these setbacks, this strong-willed lady maintains that she wants to see her former employer prosecutedand see his pub closed down. “I don’t want another lady to become like me. It’s very bad you know,” Gabriella said in her broken English, tears streaming down her face.  “Boss told me if customer like us, we got to give extra service [sex],” Gabriella says. Even saying the word “sex” made her wince.

One of her colleagues even tried to convince her, “You’re here already so you do what you do. You treat your customers like your darling, your sweetheart.”

The pub makes about $300 for one night of sexual services given by her. Women like her are not protected – no condoms are used in her case – which means she not only could get impregnated anytime but she is also  exposed to STDs.

Every evening, Gabriella and her colleagues would take a taxi together to report to work. One day, she and another girl gave the group the slip and  ran away  to the Woodlands checkpoint. The other lady crossed the border into Malaysia, leaving Gabriella stranded at the checkpoint.

Eventuall, she found help with a local non-governmental organization and lodged a police report against her former employer.

The Criminal Investigation Division is now working on her case.

Recounting the incident is painful for her. “It makes me remember,”she says, as tears continue to stream down her face, “it’s too painful.”

Her parents back home are aware of her situation. “My mom kept crying” Gabriella says.

She was hospitalized once when she first escaped, and that cost about $2500 for a three day stay at the Singapore General Hospital. Gabriella has to report to the hospital once a week now for check-ups to monitor her white and red blood cell balance, which she said has improved slightly since. She suffers from a loss of appetite, occasional shooting pains down her body and has lost a substantialamount of weight since she left her hometown. The doctor told her that her condition does not require chemotherapy, but rather ten years of medicinal pills. She is worried the moment she leaves after the case is closed and she is sent home to her country, she will not be able to  continue her leukemia treatment anymore as she would not have the help she is being given here in Singapore.

Despite having escaped from the sex trade, she has suicidal thoughts sometimes. “I try my best for my son, but now I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like dying.”