News @ AsiaOne

Customers believe they won't get caught

Undeterred by recent arrests, sex rings continue advertising their services online. -TNP
Zaihan Mohamed Yusof

Wed, Jan 04, 2012
The New Paper

New ads promoting sex-for-hire websites have sprung up despite the police raid at a Bukit Panjang condominium that forced an online prostitution ring to shut down.

The arrest of 11 men and 12 women last Wednesday has not deterred these online sex peddlers. Their brazen ads are on the very same sex forum that the busted ring advertised in, displaying choices, prices and Singapore mobile phone numbers.

John (not his real name), who is familiar with the sex trade, said: "You chop off one syndicate head, seven others will appear. It's easy money that nobody would want to miss out on. "Customers still believe the chances of getting caught are almost nil."

A Singaporean executive, who is familiar with how such syndicates work, explained: "The people who run such businesses are invisible.

You'll never meet them.

"An SMS reply would give you the time and venue to meet the prostitutes. They then change their mobile phone numbers regularly."

That has been their modus operandi.

Many of the mobile phone numbers are on prepaid cards registered to migrant workers or people outside the vice trade.

Transactions between the male customers and the prostitutes are carried out in the privacy of a hotel room or a home.

Screening customers

Added Mr Ong (not his real name): "First-timers will often be tested by the pimps. They're made to wait at several different places before the pimps finally tell them which hotel to go to.

"It's one of the ways to ensure that you're a genuine case and not somebody working for the authorities."

Tough actions by the police may have driven more of the sex trade to go online.

In 2005, 3,200 freelance sex workers were rounded up, according to the police.

In 2009, that figure jumped to 7,600.

A 40-year-old Singaporean familiar the sex syndicates said: "Seven years ago, there were maybe four sex websites dedicated to Singaporean men that I knew about. Today, the number is between 20 and 30."

He added: "That's not counting the special online groups where customers get a 'first viewing' of the newly arrived foreign prostitutes."

Most of the websites are hosted overseas, just like the three belonging to the prostitution ring busted last week.

Experts said the sex trade is also a problem plaguing other major cities around the world and is linked to human trafficking.

The International Labour Organisation estimated human trafficking profits to be between US$10 billion (S$13 billion) and US$31 billion a year.

Human trafficking expert Siddart Kara breaks it down further.

Slaves today "sell" for an average price of US$425 .

Bonded labourers are the cheapest, at US$200, while trafficked sex slaves cost US$2,000 .

Sex slaves generate about 40 per cent of total profits among all forms of slavery, said Mr Kara.

But some of the women here have not been coerced or trafficked, Student Christian Movement's project coordinator Wong Yock Leng told The New Paper last July.

Ms Wong's volunteer group reaches out to prostitutes, looking after their welfare.

The women become sex workers because they want to crawl out of poverty or debt.

Others think prostitution can make them rich.

Nevertheless, the abuse suffered by those forced into the sex trade cannot be ignored, said Mr Kara.

He said at a forum organised by business school Insead, the US Embassy and UN Women Singapore last September: "Sex trafficking is one of the most brutal and barbaric forms of human trafficking.

"Not only does it involve torture and violence, but also multiple counts of rape - up to 20 times or more a day, day after day, month after month."

Those convicted of offences relating to prostitution can be jailed up to five years and fined up to $10,000.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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