Report: Special Correspondent
THE once familiar scene of sex workers prowling the streets of Geylang, accosting or haggling with customers under the cover of darkness, is fast fading.
Geylang is now a ghost of what it was just a few months back.
In three days of checks by The New Paper on Sunday team, we found only a handful of prostitutes, or streetwalkers, flirting with potential clients.
While that is a positive development stemming from police action to stamp out vice activities in Geylang, those familiar with the trade say prostitution has merely been driven underground or, more accurately, online.
And that is worrying, say social workers, because pimps can now cast their nets wider and clients run a greater risk of being exposed to sexually-transmitted diseases.
Yet, it's a move that some pimps like John (not his real name) had anticipated.
|SLOW NIGHT: Usually at midnight, when these photos (more below) were taken, there would be scores of men and women dealing on the sidewalks. But over the last three nights, Geylang has been quiet with only the occasional streetwalker flirting with male passers-by along Geylang Lorongs 10 and 14.
In previous reports, John had claimed to be part of a growing number of pimps who has gone "below the radar" by promoting their sex business online.
Said John, who claimed he used to operate in Geylang Lorong 12: "The days of the streetwalkers are coming to an end. How do you expect to make money when the authorities frequently 'clean house'?"
Like others in the business, John pays for the foreign women to come to Singapore.
"If they (his sex workers) don't work, I'm stuck because I have borrowed money to pay for their passage here," he said.
Such fears are real as figures show an increase in the number of streetwalkers arrested.
In 2005, 3,200 freelance sex workers were rounded up, according to the police. Last year, that number jumped to 7,600.
Feeling the heat, John set up a "members-only" website.
Added the pimp, who is in his 30s: "Streetwalkers are for old Ah Bengs or those looking for cheap sex. People will still go there (Geylang), but there is no quality.
"Internet bookings, on the other hand, are becoming popular because they're less exposed to the 'mata' (Malay street language for cops or eyes)... exactly what our clients want."
While Internet-based prostitution is not new, it is becoming prevalent, said those who have used such services.
One of them, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, pointed to the many websites and blogs available today.
The 39-year-old said: "Five years ago, I knew maybe four sex websites which cater to Singaporeans. Now I know at least 20 such sites that offer such services. And there are many more which operate based just on recommendations."
Mr Lim showed this reporter 15 such sites.
Another sign pointing to the Internet's growing popularity is the difficulty in booking women, said another executive, who gave his name only as Mr Liang.
Mr Liang, 39, said: "Nowadays it's harder to get an afternoon slot because there are others who beat you to it. Before your 90-minute session is up, the girl's next appointment would already be waiting outside (the hotel room door)."
Syndicates feature as many as six women on their websites, posting their photos, vital statistics and rates.
The websites tout the latest women "who are in town". This would normally be accompanied by "field reports" allegedly posted by past clients.
One website has been viewed at least 48,000 times, while another claimed a membership of more than 10,000, although this could not be verified.
Most of the websites are hosted overseas and provide instructions on how to book the prostitutes.
There are local handphone numbers to call or SMS to when making appointments. Clients would be notified almost instantly if there are vacancies.