On 6 October, the Straits Times reported about a court case on a 16-year-old Sri Lankan, whose family was in financial woes and was recruited by her neighbours to work in Singapore as a sex worker.
The report chose to use the word, ‘prostitute’, in its headline.
The 16-year-old girl was promised that she would be able to make $1,500 within a month by her neighbours in Sri Lanka, but she was deceived. She had to work as a sex worker for 12 days before being arrested on 6 August last year by the police. The teen has yet to receive any earnings from her work.
In response to the article, Project X wrote a letter to the Straits Times forum. However, ST has not published the letter till date.
Below is the letter to the Straits Times, which was posted in Project X’s Facebook.
We would like to express our concern over a 16-year-old girl being labelled a ‘prostitute’ in the article ‘Man rented out brothel room to 16-year-old prostitute, who serviced 207 men in 12 days’ (6 October 2016).
Firstly, according to the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (2014), a “child” refers to an individual below the age of 18 years old. This is in line with the United Nationals Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol), which Singapore has acceded to last year. Both pieces of legislation state that for an individual under 18, consent is irrelevant where exploitation has taken place. And in this case, it is clear that her recruiters preyed on her financial vulnerability and exploited her. The fact that she has not been paid what she was promised shows that there might have been some form of debt bondage and deception—both indicators of trafficking.
The word ‘prostitute’ unfortunately has become a derogatory term used to degrade and demean someone not just in the sex industry, but also people who are deemed to have done something against their morals. We strongly discourage the use of this term, and in place of it, use either ‘person in the sex industry’ or ‘sex worker’. As such, to see the word ‘prostitute’ used to describe someone who is firstly merely a child, and secondly trafficked into the industry, seems to be completely inappropriate and extremely insensitive.
Being in the sex industry can be a daunting occupation for anyone, not to mention a child who genuinely wishes to aid her family through their financial crisis. The writer should have been more delicate when titling the article, choosing to be more cognizant of the laws as well as her situation rather than using a sensationalist headline.
Finally, we do wonder what form of assistance the girl is receiving including but not limited to counselling and compensation. We shudder to think that she may be sent back home without a single cent to her name, and a harrowing experience to remember for a long time to come.