Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Sex in the Shadow of the Law: Regulating Sex Work and Human Trafficking in Singapore

  • Ben CHAPMAN-SCHMIDT (a1)

Abstract

This paper uses Singapore as a case study in how the international anti-trafficking movement has influenced the regulation of sex work. In doing this, it explores the various historical, geographical, and socio-legal factors which have shaped Singapore’s system of regulation. It then presents the contemporary composition of the regulation of sex work in Singapore: a system of informal rules and protections hidden in the shadow of formal legal institutions. Finally, it analyses the impact of the international anti-trafficking movement, with specific emphasis on the American Trafficking in Persons Report, on Singapore’s regulation of sex work. It suggests that the recent increase of police raids on red light districts is aimed primarily at image control, and that these raids are undermining a functioning regulatory system. It concludes by suggesting that to improve upon its existing regulatory system, Singapore should focus on eliminating sex worker stigma and improving the rights of migrant workers.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Sex in the Shadow of the Law: Regulating Sex Work and Human Trafficking in Singapore
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Sex in the Shadow of the Law: Regulating Sex Work and Human Trafficking in Singapore
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Sex in the Shadow of the Law: Regulating Sex Work and Human Trafficking in Singapore
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

Footnotes

Hide All
*

Ph.D. Scholar, School of Sociology, Australian National University College of Arts and Social Sciences.

Footnotes

References

Hide All

1. LIM, Gerrie, Invisible Trade (Singapore: Monsoon Books, 2004).

2. D’CUNHA, Jean, “Prostitution Laws: Ideological Dimensions and Enforcement Practices” (1992) 27:17Economic and Political Weekly WS34.

3. Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev. Ed. Sing.), s. 377A.

4. Ong puts the highest ratio of males to females at 5.18:1 in 1836, while Warren gives a high of 14:1 in 1860. ONG, Jin Hui, “Singapore” in Nanette J. DAVIS, ed., Prostitution: An International Handbook on Trends, Problems, and Policies (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), 243 at 269; WARREN, James Francis, Ah Ku and Karayuki-san: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1993) at 34 [Warren, Prostitution in Singapore].

5. Warren, Prostitution in Singapore, supra note 4 at 25–35; Lenore MANDERSON, “Migration, Prostitution and Medical Surveillance in Early Twentieth-Century Malaya” in MARKS, Lara and WORBOYS, Michael, eds., Migrants, Minorities and Health: Historical and Contemporary Studies (New York: Routledge, 2002), 49 at 54.

6. Warren, Prostitution in Singapore, supra note 4 at 25–35; JASCHOK, Maria and MIERS, Suzanne, “Introduction” in Maria JASCHOK and Suzanne MIERS, eds., Women and Chinese Patriarchy: Submission, Servitude and Escape (London: Zed Books, 1994), 1; SCHILLER, Nina Glick, BASCH, Linda, and BLANC-SZANTON, Cristina, “Transnationalism: A New Analytic Framework for Understanding Migration” (1992) 645:1Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1.

7. Ong, , supra note 4 at 245.

8. WALKOWITZ, Judith R., Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) at 1169.

9. WARREN, James Francis, “Prostitution and the Politics of Venereal Disease: Singapore, 1870–98” (1990) 21:2Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 360 [Warren, “Prostitution and Politics”]; Warren, , Prostitution in Singapore, supra note 4 at 38.

10. Walkowitz, , supra note 8 at 70, 93.

11. BARRY, Kathleen, Female Sexual Slavery (New York: NYU Press, 1979) at 1416.

12. Walkowitz, , supra note 8 at 70, 9099.

13. Warren, , Prostitution in Singapore, supra note 4 at 32, 6770.

14. HERSHATTER, Gail, “The Hierarchy of Shanghai Prostitution, 1870-1949” (1989) 15:4Modern China 463 at 476477.

15. Based on the definition of human trafficking given in UN General Assembly, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, GA Res. 55/67, UN Doc A/55/PV.81 (2000). Note that different actors use different definitions of human trafficking, making any discussion of it as a coherent phenomenon problematic.

16. YOONG, Ng Siew, “The Chinese Protectorate in Singapore, 1877-1900” (1961) 2:1Journal of Southeast Asian History 76.

17. Warren, , “Prostitution and Politics”, supra note 9 at 366370.

18. Ibid.

19. Yoong, , supra note 16 at 88.

20. GRITTNER, Frederick K, White Slavery: Myth, Ideology, and American Law (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990); IRWIN, Mary Ann, “‘White Slavery’ as Metaphor Anatomy of a Moral Panic” (1996) 5, online: Ex Post Facto <http://www.walnet.org/csis/papers/irwin-wslavery.html>; DOEZEMA, Jo, “Loose Women or Lost Women? The Re-Emergence of the Myth of White Slavery in Contemporary Discourses of Trafficking in Women” (1999) 18:1Gender Issues 23; Barry, , supra note 11 at 2732.

21. Walkowitz, , supra note 8 at 211252.

22. GALLAGHER, Anne T., The International Law of Human Trafficking (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010) at 13 [Gallagher, Law of Trafficking].

23. Doezema, , supra note 20 at 30.

24. Apparently Willis provided the material on Singapore, MacKirdy the feminist rhetoric that framed it. MacKirdy’s given name does not appear to be given anywhere.

25. Warren, , Prostitution in Singapore, supra note 4 at 153155.

26. Ibid. at 159–177.

27. Ong, , supra note 4 at 246.

28. The last two major international agreements, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age, were passed in 1921 and 1933 respectively. See Gallagher, Law of Trafficking, supra note 22 at 14.

29. HSIEN, Ng Hui, Moral Order Underground: An Ethnography of the Geylang Sex Trade (Masters Thesis, National University of Singapore, 2011) at 40 [unpublished].

30. Ong, , supra note 4 at 247.

31. Hsien, , supra note 29 at 40.

32. Any sex between men, as already mentioned, is illegal in Singapore. Sex between women, financially compensated or otherwise, is not, though women are forbidden from entering the state-sanctioned brothels. See ibid. at 45.

33. Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap 184, 1997 Rev. Ed. Sing.), s. 19.

34. Women’s Charter (Cap 353, 2009 Rev. Ed. Sing.), ss. 140-79.

35. Penal Code, supra note 3, ss. 372-73A, 376B.

36. Immigration Act (Cap 133, 2008 Rev. Ed. Sing.), ss. 8, 31.

37. Ong, , supra note 4 at 248.

38. Hsien, , supra note 29 at 4044.

39. BRAZIL, David, No Money, No Honey! (Singapore: Angsana Books, 1994). Singaporeans I have spoken with linked the destruction of the Tanjong Pagar DRA to its presence within the district represented by Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

40. Hsien, , supra note 29 at 4044.

41. Ong, , supra note 4 at 248249.

42. WONG, Yang Joel, “Brothels, Pimps and Prostitutes: The Administration of Criminal Justice vis-a-vis Prostitution” (1996) 17 Singapore Law Review 154 at 170 [Wong, “Brothels, Pimps and Prostitutes”].

43. Tested STIs are gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV, and syphilis; HPV, as far as I can tell, is not a bar to sex work.

44. WONG, Mee-Lian, CHAN, Roy, and KOH, David, “A Sustainable Behavioral Intervention to Increase Condom Use and Reduce Gonorrhea among Sex Workers in Singapore: 2-Year Follow-Up” (1998) 27:6Preventive Medicine 891; WONG, Mee-Lianet al., “Sex Work and Risky Sexual Behaviors among Foreign Entertainment Workers in Urban Singapore: Findings from Mystery Client Survey” (2012) 89:6Journal of Urban Health 1031; Ong, , supra note 4 at 251.

45. Joshua E. KEATING, “The Bedroom State” Foreign Policy (June 2012), online: Foreign Policy <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/23/the_bedroom_state?page=0,2>; Robin Grier, “A Singaporean Strategy for Increasing the Fertility Rate” Cherokee Gothic (26 April 2013), online: Cherokee Gothic <http://cherokeegothic.com/2013/04/26/a-singaporean-strategy-for-increasing-the-fertility-rate/>; Agence France Presse, “Singapore Offers Love Vouchers to Promote Dating” NY Daily News (17 December 2012), online: NY Daily News <http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/singapore-offers-love-vouchers-promote-dating-article-1.1222047>.

46. FOUCAULT, Michel, The History of Sexuality (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978) at 133160; FOUCAULT, Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979 (New York: Picador, 2010); MICOLLIER, Evelyne, “Social Significance of Commercial Sex Work: Implicitly Shaping a Sexual Culture” in Evelyne MICOLLIER, ed., Sexual Cultures in East Asia: The Social Construction of Sexuality and Sexual Risk in a Time of AIDS (New York: Routledge, 2003), 3.

47. Hsien, , supra note 29 at 3742.

48. Ong, , supra note 4 at 254.

49. YEOH, Brenda S. A. and HUANG, Shirlena, “Sexualised Politics of Proximities among Female Transnational Migrants in Singapore” (2010) 16:1Population, Space and Place 37.

50. Hsien, , supra note 29 at 48; Ong, , supra note 4 at 249256.

51. Nicolas LAINEZ, A Foot In and Foot Out: Sex Migration of Vietnamese Women to Singapore, Research Report No. 3 (Ho Chi Minh City: Alliance Anti-Trafic, 2011).

52. Hsien, , supra note 29 at 70, 9091.

53. Wong et al., supra note 44. Note that this rate is reflective of sex workers who are more likely to be targeted with arrest – sex workers who are potentially both more marginalised and more risk-prone.

54. See for example YEA, Sallie, “‘Shades of Grey’: Spaces in and beyond Trafficking for Thai Women Involved in Commercial Sexual Labour in Sydney and Singapore” (2012) 19:1Gender, Place and Culture 42.

55. Lainez, , supra note 51.

56. LEIGH, Carol, “Inventing Sex Work” in Jill NAGLE, ed., Whores and Other Feminists (New York: Routledge, 1997), 223 at 225; SCAMBLER, Graham, “Sex Work Stigma: Opportunist Migrants in London” (2007) 41:6Sociology 1079.

57. Women from China on special visas to accompany children or grandchildren coming to Singapore to study.

58. Yeoh, and Huang, , supra note 49.

59. Gallagher, , Law of Trafficking, supra note 22 at 29.

60. CHUANG, Janie A, “The United States as Global Sheriff: Using Unilateral Sanctions to Combat Human Trafficking” (2006) 27:2Michigan Journal of International Law.

61. US, HR 3244, Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, 106th Cong., 2000 [TVPA].

62. US Department of State, 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2013) [US Department of State, 2013 TIP Report].

63. GALLAGHER, Anne T., “Improving the Effectiveness of the International Law of Human Trafficking: A Vision for the Future of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Reports” (2011) 12:3Human Rights Review 381 [Gallagher, “Improving the Effectiveness of Law”].

64. WEITZER, Ronald, “The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade” (2007) 35:3Politics Society 447.

65. Doezema, supra note 20; BINDMAN, Jo and DOEZEMA, Jo, Redefining Prostitution as Sex Work on the International Agenda (London: Anti-Slavery International, 1997); DAGISTANLI, Selda and MILIVOJEVIC, Sanja, “Appropriating the Rights of Women: Moral Panics, Victims and Exclusionary Agendas in Domestic and Cross-Borders Sex Crimes” (2013) 40 Women’s Studies International Forum 230; CHAPKIS, Wendy, “Trafficking, Migration, and the Law: Protecting Innocents, Punishing Immigrants” (2003) 17:6Gender and Society 923; KEMPADOO, Kamala, “Globalizing Sex Worker Rights” in Kamala KEMPADOO and Jo DOEZEMA, eds., Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance and Redefinition (New York: Routledge, 1998), 1.

66. TVPA, supra note 61, s. 103(9).

67. Ibid., s. 103(8)(B)

68. See generally ibid.

69. US Department of State, 2001 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2001) at 66.

70. US Department of State, 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2002).

71. US Department of State, 2003 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2003).

72. US Department of State, 2004 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2004); US Department of State, 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2005).

73. Seng, WONG Kan, Question for Written Answer, 20 July 2004, Home Team Speeches (Singapore: Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, 20 July 2004).

74. Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, Comments on the 2004 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report on Singapore by the United States Department Of State (Singapore, 2004).

75. US Department of State, 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2006) at 222223.

76. US Department of State, 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2007) at 182183.

77. Penal Code, supra note 3, s. 376B–D.

78. US Department of State, 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2008).

79. Seng, WONG Kan, Written Answer to Parliament Question on What Will Be the Course of Action to Improve Singapore’s “Tier 2” Placement, Home Team Speeches (Singapore: Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, 2008).

80. Ibid.

81. US Government Accountability Office, Human Trafficking: Better Data, Strategy, and Reporting Needed to Enhance U.S. Antitrafficking Efforts Abroad, GAO-06-825 (Washington, DC: US Government Accountability Office, 2006).

82. GALLAGHER, Anne T., “Trafficking in Persons Report (review)” (2001) 23:4Human Rights Quarterly 1135 at 1138; Chapkis, supra note 65 at 930.

83. BERMAN, Jacqueline, “Left, the Right, and the Prostitute: The Making of U.S. Antitrafficking in Persons Policy” (2006) 14:2Tulane Journal of International and Comparative Law 269; Chuang, supra note 60; SODERLUND, Gretchen, “Running from the Rescuers: New U.S. Crusades Against Sex Trafficking and the Rhetoric of Abolition” (2005) 17:3NWSA Journal 64; Weitzer, supra note 64.

84. BERNAT, Frances P. and ZHILINA, Tatyana, “Trafficking in Humans: The TIP Report” (2011) 5:6Sociology Compass 452; Gallagher, , “Improving the Effectiveness of Law”, supra note 63.

85. US Department of State, 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2009) at 256258; US Department of State, 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2010) at 292294.

86. WEE Keat Leong, “Human Trafficking Watch – Singapore Ranks Alongside Afghanistan” Transitioning.org (16 June 2010), online: Transitioning.Org <http://www.transitioning.org/2010/06/16/human-trafficking-watch-singapore-ranks-alongside-afghanistan/>.

87. Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce’s Detailed Response to the 2011 US State Department’s Trafficking In Persons Report (Singapore, 2011) [Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, Detailed Response].

88. HANGZO, Pau Khan Khup and COOK, Alistair D.B., Trafficking in Persons: Singapore’s Evolving Responses (Singapore: RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security, April 2012).

89. US Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2011) at 319323 [US Department of State, 2011 TIP Report].

90. Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, Detailed Response, supra note 87.

91. Mustafa SHAFAWI, “US Human Trafficking Report ‘Riddled with Inaccuracies’” Channel News Asia (28 June 2011), online: Trafficking Monitor <http://trafficking-monitor.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/us-human-trafficking-report-riddled.html>.

92. Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons 2012–2015 (Singapore, 2012).

93. CLARKE, Libby, FDW Trafficking Research Report (Singapore: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, 2012); HOME, HOME’s Response to TIP Report 2012: Singapore (Singapore: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, 2012) [HOME, Home's Response]; Rachel CHHOA-HOWARD, “Singapore Launches National Plan of Action on Trafficking” RIGHTSWRITER (21 March 2012), online: RIGHTSWRITER <http://rightswriter.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/singapore-launches-national-plan-of-action-on-trafficking/>; Caroline PARKES and Kathryn BAER, Statement on the Implementation of the National Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons (Singapore: The Trafficking Research Project, 2012).

94. US Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2012) at 308311.

95. US Department of State, 2013 TIP Report, supra note 62 at 326329.

96. Ibid.

97. US Department of State, 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2014) [US Department of State, 2014 TIP Report].

98. Pei Shan HOE, “More Being Done to Fight Human Trafficking” Straits Times (30 June 2013), online: Straits Times <http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/more-being-done-fight-human-trafficking-20130630>.

99. ORTMANN, Stephan, “Policy Advocacy in a Competitive Authoritarian Regime The Growth of Civil Society and Agenda Setting in Singapore” (2012) 44:6Administration and Society Supplement 13S; LEE, Terence, “The Politics of Civil Society in Singapore” (2002) 26:1Asian Studies Review 97; GWYNNE, Joel, “Slutwalk, Feminist Activism and the Foreign Body in Singapore” (2013) 43:1Journal of Contemporary Asia 173.

100. LYONS, Lenore, “The Limits of Feminist Political Intervention in Singapore” (2000) 30:1Journal of Contemporary Asia 67.

101. CHONG, Terence, The AWARE Saga: Civil Society and Public Morality in Singapore (Singapore: NUS Press, 2011); “Taken Unawares: Singapore’s NGO Furore” The Economist (7 May 2009), online: The Economist <http://www.economist.com/node/13611576>.

102. AWARE, “Research and Advocacy: Projects: Ongoing” (9 August 2014), online: AWARE <http://www.aware.org.sg/research-advocacy/projects/ongoing/>.

103. US Department of State, 2011 TIP Report, supra note 89 at 49.

104. HOME, “The 10 Facts”, online: HOME <http://www.home.org.sg/facts/index.html>.

105. HOME, Home’s Response, supra note 93.

106. Caroline PARKES and Kathryn BAER, A Response to the United States Trafficking in Persons Report (2012) Specifically as It Relates to Singapore (Singapore: The Trafficking Research Project, 2012).

107. Tellingly, American allies in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar were categorised as Tier 3 in 2001 and 2002 but got an upgrade in 2003, the first year sanctions were actually enforced.

108. US Department of State, 2014 TIP Report, supra note 97.

109. See for example leaked versions of the cables from the US embassy in Singapore in 2006 and 2007, see online: Cablegate <http://cablegatesearch.net/>. See also Ko-lin CHIN and James O. FINCKENAUER, Selling Sex Overseas: Chinese Women and the Realities of Prostitution and Global Sex Trafficking (New York: NYU Press, 2012) at 213–214.

110. Ibid.

111. FRIMAN, H. Richard, “Numbers and Certification: Assessing Foreign Compliance in Combating Narcotics and Human Trafficking” in Peter ANDREAS and Kelly M GREENHILL, eds., Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2010), 75.

112. van HAM, Peter, “The Rise of the Brand State: The Postmodern Politics of Image and Reputation” (2001) 80:5Foreign Affairs 2; Hangzo and Cook, supra note 88.

113. DITMORE, Melissa, The Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking in Persons (New York: Sex Workers Project, 2009); Empower, A Report by Empower Chiang Mai on the Human Rights Violations Women are Subjected to when “Rescued” by Anti-Trafficking Groups Who Employ Methods Using Deception, Force and Coercion (Thailand, 2003).

114. Supra note 51.

115. Yea, supra note 54.

116. Chin, and Finckenauer, , supra note 109 at 213214.

117. See e.g. Wong, , “Brothels, Pimps and Prostitutes”, supra note 42.

118. US Department of State, 2014 TIP Report, supra note 97 at 342.

* Ph.D. Scholar, School of Sociology, Australian National University College of Arts and Social Sciences.

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed