“How are we talking about the issue of human trafficking?
When a woman shares a story of being duped by a promise
of quick money in Singapore, only to be forced into the sex trade,
do we ask ‘how could she have been so blind?”
As individuals we need to suspend judgement of the victims.”
~ Braema Mathi
By ShuQi Liu
Prostitution is legal in Singapore. Sex Trafficking is a crime. Prosecutions against sex traffickers are rare. Victims of sex trafficking can be fined or jailed for immigration violations. Singapore’s new National Plan of Action promises a more compassionate approach.
In the face of so many conflicting and changing realities, what does it mean for an individual to suspend judgement?
This is the question I posed to Braema Mathi, a civil society activist and former Nominated Member of Parliament who spoke at ONE (SINGAPORE)’s panel discussion about human trafficking.
We need to start by looking more closely at ourselves and our history, Braema says.
For as long as Asian men have sought to flaunt their success by acquiring concubines and mistresses and frequenting houses of prostitution, human trafficking for sexual purposes has been part of our culture. In some chauvinistic Asian societies, a man’s coming of age is still expressed in terms of sexuality. A father encourages his young son to take the virginity of a female child as a symbol of manhood. The status of women, who are viewed as sexual objects and subject to the whims and fancies of men, is secondary.
Singapore’s rich economy meanwhile has attracted large numbers of foreign women, particularly from rural areas where income opportunities are scarce, to come here with the hope of making quick money. Men need only travel from one street to another in Geylang to hire women from China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, among other places. This diversity of nationalities creates an even larger tendency among Singaporeans to judge.
How were these sex workers recruited to come to Singapore?
Did a woman choose ‘the world’s oldest profession’ willingly or was she duped or forced into the business? It can be difficult to know the truth. Traumatised victims often fall into silence, unable to speak of their ordeal, which then makes detection and prosecution even harder.
The definition of trafficking, like the victims themselves, is entwined by the complexities of the trade.
A first step to suspending judgement is to recognise the victimisation of many women in the sex industry.
Sex trafficking as a whole can only be tackled if society engages men to reevaluate our value systems and transform thought into legislation and suitable processes to fight this modern form of slavery.
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