Earlier this year (24 March), all bars and entertainment venues like night clubs, discos, cinemas, theatres, and karaoke outlets were forced to close down for a period of time.
This was implemented together with a whole range of additional measures by the Multi-Ministry Taskforce, where it also enforced stricter measures that limit gatherings outside of work and school to 10 persons or fewer, and ensure that physical distancing of at least one metre can be achieved.
This came as a shock for operators of legal brothels too, as they were informed by the Anti-Vice Department of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) that they were also required to close their doors until the dust settles.
Fast forward to today, it has been more than seven months since the red light district in Geylang had its lights turned off – figuratively or perhaps even literally. Given that night clubs are still not operational – at least not for its usual modus operandi – it is very unlikely that the red light district will be opened anytime soon.
Such is a tragedy for pimps and sex workers from the government-sanctioned brothels as they have not been able to retain any source of solid income even though they are still spending their days here.
After all, pimps and sex workers – both of whom work seven days a week in the said brothels – are only paid when they have customers.
According to the operators, there has not been any assistance to their business or employees.
Pimps, despite being Singaporeans, are not eligible for any wage support, as the brothels are not licensed business, and they do not draw a monthly pay.
In addition to the supposed temporary closure of the legal brothels, the Anti-Vice Police squad limits the movement of the working ladies to the vicinities of brothels even when they are not working. It is said that the sex workers are only allowed to officially go out for an hour a day.
While many of them have been sent back to their homeland due to failure to comply with the lockdown restrictions, some have chosen to stick around because their shops and bosses kept giving them false hope that the lockdown will soon be over. But promises of better days ahead seem more and more far-fetched with each passing month.
On top of that, for those low-income Asian migrant sex workers returning home, they will have to fork out their own money to pay for their travel expenses.
TOC understands that these sex workers are not prevented from leaving the country by the Government. However, it is noteworthy that they cannot return to Singapore after they depart – not for five years at least, based on hearsay. This is an unwritten rule by the Government for sex workers who work in Singapore.
Meanwhile, those who came to the Lion City just before the whole lockdown would either be returning home or living here with quite a sum of debt as they have to pay a hefty agent fee, which could come up to at least S$3,800.
An average sex worker earns about S$25 per service, but let’s not forget that they have to bear all the miscellaneous cost including their regular medical examination, daily sanitary items, etc.
Also, it is noteworthy that the ladies do not get an equal sum of pay for their services. Those from China would typically earn twice the amount more than the ones from Thailand and Vietnam due to the higher rates they charge.
On a different note, with the reopening of most retail businesses – which include therapy outlets – illegal sexual services have emerged back into the scene. As the old saying goes, “There is a supply for every demand.”
With social distancing measures in place, it is no surprise that many – particularly those who fall short in suaveness – are seeking to get their fix through online services. However, this may very well lead to being victims of sex scams.
Given the restriction in travel, it is unlikely that the advertised services are as authentic these days as they would in the past.
To feel the sentiments on the ground, TOC took a stroll along the usually-vibrant Geylang neighbourhood last night (11 Nov).
Along the deserted red light district, we came across a pimp outside of a closed brothel, who told us that many of the sex workers are, in fact, still in Singapore.
He also noted that the shops do provide them with meals on a daily basis.
However, TOC understands that this is not the case for all the shops, as a number of them expect the ladies to pay for their food – about S$7 per meal – despite the lack of income.
What’s more, the pimp reiterated the claim that the shops should be reopening either next month or at the dawn of the new year – which illustrates the earlier point of false hope being delivered, and also blind optimism being practiced.
In fact, another pimp – who came out from what was once a neon-lit house during nighttime – told us that he was adamant they would be back in operation earlier in July when the lockdown was first removed in the wake of the General Election.
With the way things are at the moment, one might have better luck winning the lottery than to pinpoint when exactly will the red light district in Geylang be able to turn on its lights.
Ultimately, while the sex workers are often frowned upon by society, it is without a shadow of doubt that there are still many who are moved by their plight in these harsh times.