Kuala Lumpur – Prostitution is ‘officially’ illegal in Malaysia, like in many Asian countries with a few exceptions, like Thailand where it is more ‘openly’ tolerated. However, in many of these countries, even though outlawed, prostitution is thriving. Over the years, the demand for prostitution has led to human trafficking from countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Philippines, just to name a few.
With the influx of sex workers from neighboring countries in recent years, prostitution in Malaysia has gained notoriety as sex services are still widely available despite on-going efforts to crackdown on prostitution by the government. According to unofficial estimates, there are around 150,000 prostitutes in Malaysia, with about 10,000 to 20,000 of them in the Klang Valley alone.
Areas like Petaling Street, Jalan Alor, Chow Kit, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Jalan Hicks, Brickfields and Jalan Imbi, to name a few, are among the infamous red-light hotspots for prostitutes to ply their trade. Not surprisingly, some massage parlours, discos, pubs, and private houses are used for illegal commercial sex activities.
The advent of modern technology has also driven the world’s ‘oldest profession’ to be available online like many other vice activities. Sex workers in Malaysia have found a novel way to promote their services.They start to make full use of the potentials of the internet and it seems that punters seeking for prostitutes can now easily log on to websites that specifically designed for this purpose by leaving their details like types of services, body’s measurements, price, location and contact numbers online.
Malaysian Digest texted one of them and surprisingly, we got a response back in no time. (see pix below).
Prostitution in Malaysia is surprisingly ‘big’
Bukit Aman D7 Anti-Vice, Gambling and Secret Societies Division arrested an astounding 12,234 prostitutes in 2012. Of which, 5,165 were from China, 2,009 from Thailand, 1,418 from Indonesian, 845 from the Philippines, 139 from India, 114 from Myanmar, 70 from Uzbekistan and 70 from Cambodia, according to a report by Bernama earlier. Vietnamese nationals make up the second-highest – an increase of around 2,200 from the previous year.
Meanwhile, according to Havoscope, an online global black market watchdog, it is reported that the black market in our country is estimated to be worth a mind-boggling US$2 billion (equivalent to RM9.74 billion). More surprisingly, Malaysia ranked 40 out of 93 countries profiled, based on the estimated impact of the security threat from the black market.
With that said, it is no surprise that the biggest percentage of the market is dominated by the commercialized sex ‘industry’ in Malaysia. It is worth a staggering US$963 million (equivalent to RM3.2 billion), thereby placing the country at 17 out of 26 countries with the highest revenues from this ‘industry’ (the figures are based on the amount that foreign prostitutes are capable of earning in the flesh trade).
However, according to the official law enforcement view, commercialized sex in the country is mild and not that serious compared with other countries. In a recent online news report in September, Anti-Vice, Gambling and Secret Societies Division principal assistant director SAC Datuk Roslee Chik was quoted as saying that commercialized sex is not an industry as it is “not that big” in Malaysia. He was also reported as saying that the term “sex activities” is more accurate as the word “industry” implied that the profits derived from prostitution in Malaysia was as big as in Thailand, where the sex trade is openly tolerated.
Paying for sexual satisfaction exists in many countries whether it is officially acknowledged or otherwise. In some countries where legislation now exist to govern legal sex workers, there have been former prostitutes who have gone public with tell-all books and newspaper interviews. Dr. Brooke Magnanti, a former sex worker who became a medical researcher in the UK, has written openly about this topic in a regular column for The Telegraph. UK.
The story of a Malaysian sex worker
Unlike her counterparts in Germany, UK or even Singapore where prostitution is legal, Malaysian sex workers do not have a platform to voice their side of the story openly but can only do so behind concealed identities.
A local sex worker, who spoke on a condition of anonymity, shared her story when met by Malaysian Digest in an interview recently.
She hails from Sungai Dua, Penang, 31 years old and told Malaysian Digest that her initial intention when she first came to KL after she finished secondary school in 2001 was to find a decent job that can support her poverty-stricken family. As the only child in the family means she had to juggle between work and home, adding that she had to pay for the mounting medical bills of her ill father.
After several months in KL, she was still jobless and staying with a close friend. She then met a guy named Adam, who worked as a technician, and they got married after just a 1 year relationship.
When asked the reason she choose to work as a sex worker, she was embarrassed about her experiences: “I got pregnant and married at the tender age of 19 years old. I gave birth out of wedlock. After 3 years of marriage, my husband filed for divorce, left me with my daughter and we lost contact with each other since.”
“To make ends meet, I sent my daughter back to my hometown and my mother helped to look after her so that I can work a full-time job. I went for several job interviews and was accepted to work as a shampoo girl in a saloon in the city, with a monthly salary of RM600 but I left the job after one month as the salary could hardly support my family.
“I had no choice but to find an easy way out of my predicament in order to earn ‘fast cash’. With the recommendation by a friend, I found a job as a part-time prostitute in a ‘massage parlour’ and I have been working there since,” she said.
Showing no remorse, she further remarked that: “I get RM150 per hour servicing two to three clients per day and sometimes I managed to earn up to RM5,000 to RM7,000 a month, adding that there were times she lured customers through online means.”
Every year, thousands of young women are lured by the promise of easy money to work as sex workers, although for every willing prostitute there are countless others who had been forced into the sex trade through trafficking, slavery and circumstances.
Many sex workers are unaware of the dire consequences of this illegal but lucrative work, such as contracting sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancies and exposure to violence and beatings. In many countries, there are now support groups and professional associations that cater specifically to this much overlooked and prosecuted group of ‘service providers’.
Boldly venturing where others fear to tread – NGOs in aid of sex workers
Malaysian Digest spoke to PT Foundation recently on the matter to find out how they play a part in providing support to sex workers in the country.
PT Foundation (previously known as Pink Triangle Sdn Bhd) is a community-based, voluntary non-profit organization providing HIV/AIDS education, prevention, care and support programmes, sexual health and empowerment programmes for vulnerable communities in Malaysia.
“We basically provide support, care and work closely with 5 key populations namely sex workers, drug users, transsexuals, men who have sex with men (MSM), and also people living with HIV/AIDS. We try to befriend these affected individuals as we firmly believe most of them are troubled by self-stigma who end up with low self-esteem,” said Raymond Tai, Marketing & Communication Director of PT Foundation in an interview with Malaysian Digest recently.
Citing examples, Tai said his organization has its own venue-based outreach team and offers a wide array of outreach programmes and activities to sex workers and other affected populations. For example, we provide free condoms, counseling and sex education and empower the sex workers and other key affected populations in dealing with sexual health by encouraging them to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
Tai added that: “As sex workers are prone to discrimination and stigmatization in our society, we also help them in various aspects like provide assistance for housing loan application, offer legal advice, link them to employers and offer them preferential treatment.”
“There are multiple factors that force them to become sex workers; sometimes it is not their choice. Most of them have been stigmatized, discriminated and criminalized at one point or other in their lives. It may be due to their poor family background, abusive family, limited education as well as the disintegration of marriage,” Tai stressed.
Illegal or not, prostitution in Malaysia requires some form of monitoring
Last month, Damansara Utama assemblyman Yeo Bee Yin was quoted as saying that the government should not take the problem of illegal sex trade in the country lightly. She said as a responsible government, instead of dragging its heels, it is better to find solutions to tackle this complex problem through legislation and enforcement. Any lukewarm attitude towards this serious issue is completely unacceptable,” she pointed out in response to the statement by Bukit Aman’s SAC Datuk Roslee Chik regarding underage sex trafficking in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, our reader Sathi Nallisamy, 27, also shared his viewpoint with us.
“I personally think that the sex industry in Malaysia remains a taboo topic even though it [sex services] has been readily available for so many years in spite of its illegality. As far as I am concerned, there are so many massage parlours and private prostitution houses nowadays, providing illegal services to customers without interference or control from the government..’. He questioned how these premises can be immune from law for so long.
“Being a Malaysian who cares for the country, I would suggest the government to legalize prostitution. Just look at our neighboring country Singapore, for example, commercialized sex is not completely illegal although some certain extreme sexual activities are prohibited and strictly regulated.” Sathi opined.
As long as prostitution is considered illegal, this ‘industry’ is driven underground and the sex workers who earn a living from it will be at the mercy of ruthless criminal elements unless some form of legal monitoring or outreach program is established. – MD