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They were promised well-paid jobs in fine restaurants in Singapore. But a group of five Thai women, including a mother and a daughter, say they ended up being forced to sleep with hundreds of men before police rescued them.
“I thought I would come here to work in a hotel, but they put me in hell,” said Pon, a mother of two in her late 30s, recalling her three days of working in a “jungle brothel” before a police raid rescued her and two Thai friends.
“My pimps told me I had to pay them 20,000 baht ($560) for what they paid for me if I didn’t want to work for them. Otherwise I would have to sleep with 160 men before they could start sharing some earnings,” Pon said, telling her story while sobbing at a shelter for abused migrant women.
Two others, a mother in her late 40s and her daughter in her early 20s, escaped the brothel and have returned to Thailand.
Pon, who preferred not to give her full name, said her “room” in a forested area was made of plastic sheets wrapped around wooden poles and a foldable mattress, in which pimps charged customers S$20 ($13) for a 10-minute “shot”.
Singapore’s sex trade is a side of the Southeast Asian city-state less well-known than its air-conditioned shopping malls, efficient governance and laws that ban littering and the import of chewing gum.
Prostitution is legal in Singapore, but the law bans soliciting of sex and penalises those who live on the earnings of prostitutes.
The government said it has a “comprehensive legal framework and a robust operational framework” to deal with vice and human trafficking, saying cases of forced prostitution were rare and it would take all reports of alleged exploitation seriously.
“Instances of women genuinely found forced into prostitution or lured into prostitution under false pretences are few and far between,” the Ministry of Home Affairs told Reuters.
“In most instances, police investigations found that the cases arose from disputes between the women and their vice abettors over payments and other arrangements.”
Rescued sex workers said many prostitutes, willing or deceived, enter Singapore as tourists and are kept together. As tourist visas allow them to stay up to a month, many choose to have sex with as many men as possible to pay the fee.
“My record was 17 men per night but some of my friends reached more than 30,” said Ja, a 23-year-old from northern Thailand who declined to give her full name.
Ja, now staying at another Singapore shelter, made about $2,000 in a one-month stay on a previous visit a year ago — equivalent to a factory manager’s one-month salary in Thailand.
“I think I have had enough of this job. If I can return home this time, I want to study, I want go back to school and work in another profession,” Ja told Reuters.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in February human trafficking for the sex trade or forced labour market appears to be getting worse because many countries are ignoring the globalised problem, but it gave no figures.
A U.S. State Department report has put the number of people trafficked at 800,000 a year, versus the International Labour Organisation’s estimate in 2005 of 2.5 million a year.
“These trafficked women are devastated and only want to go home,” said Bridget Lew, who runs the organisation H.O.M.E. for abused migrants. “They could be the tip of the iceberg.”