The ‘demand and supply’ fuelling Singapore’s premium foreign sex industry

The ‘demand and supply’ fuelling Singapore’s premium foreign sex industry

Unlike the streetwalkers openly prowling red-light districts, these women operate under a shroud of secrecy and discretion - yet are a ubiquitous presence online.

A screenshot of a website run by an independent "high-class" foreign escort on a short-term visit to Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Her website, with its own personal domain name, is particularly polished and professional-looking.

Slick copywriting accompanied by glossy, high-resolution photos suggest a lingerie model’s portfolio perhaps, but the telltale signs are there: An absent face. Multiple pages of FAQs, where she calls herself a “GFE”, which stands for girlfriend experience. A “general information” section stating she does both incalls and outcalls, and will cater to men, women and couples alike.

It’s all lingo used by escorts, but the website’s owner Dalia (not her real name) prefers to be known as a “social companion”.

“Which means I offer my time and my attention. Whatever happens during that time is up to two adults’ consent,” she explained to Channel NewsAsia earlier this week.

According to her website, Dalia was born in “a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern” country and speaks English, Turkish and French. She has been in this line for only a couple of months, and is a new arrival in Singapore.

“I am 100 per cent independent so I don't see why the police would have a problem with me,” said Dalia, when asked if she saw herself as falling foul of local laws.

In Singapore, it is illegal to live on the earnings of a prostitute, or run a website providing sexual services in return for payment. Last month, four foreign women - three Russian and one Uzbek - were arrested for offences relating to “high-class” escort services advertised online.

Some of the foreigners arrested for their suspected involvement in vice-related activities. (Photo: SPF) 

Dalia’s website though, is careful to make no explicit mention of sex nor payment. “A ‘price’ is what you pay for a product, I am not one. I take donations,” she said.

“STEEPED IN SECRECY”

When asked if last month’s raid was the first of its kind - targeting high-class sex workers from abroad - Singapore police declined to comment. No statistics about such workers were available, although it was revealed the total number of all foreign women arrested for suspected vice-related activities had dropped from 4,886 in 2014 to 2,947 in 2016.

The police did not provide reasons for this dip, but said they “keep a close watch on the crime situation in Singapore, and continue to maintain a high enforcement tempo against vice activities”.

Ms Vanessa Ho, project director of Project X, which advocates sex workers’ rights in Singapore, said this was her first time hearing of such a police operation in her six years at the organisation.

“We do work with higher-end escorts who command more money, from S$500 to S$1,000 an hour,” said Ms Ho, who in 2014 launched a support programme for foreign escorts who advertise online. “When it’s higher than S$500 per hour, it’s usually a foreigner, although some locals can call that amount too.”

The syndicate busted in May touted services at rates starting from S$500 an hour. (Photo: SPF) 

She said that within this group, Project X has worked with all kinds of nationalities so far, although Dalia observed there are especially large numbers of Brazilian, Russian and East European women in the business.

“They’re aged from as young as 21 to their mid-30s, and come from extremely diverse backgrounds,” said Ms Ho. “Some have been in the trade for 10 years.”

“I’ve met a couple of legitimate students, who are not here on false pretences ... But I’ve also met some who are not students.”

It is usually difficult to reach out to these high-end sex workers, she said. “The scene is very secretive and hidden … those who we meet are those who search for us online. This group is a bit more resourceful. They’ll Google and find out that there is such an organisation here.”

Said criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, known for his pro bono initiatives with sex workers: “When it comes to vice of this nature, they are not your typical streetwalkers at red-light districts. This is more premium, where the processes are steeped in secrecy and it’s a lot more discreet.”

“But based on my own observations, this doesn’t form a very big part of the pie. It’s a very niche group. It’s not prevalent,” he commented. “The sex scene in Singapore is still predominantly locals and foreigners from the Southeast Asian sphere.”

Ho noted there was no marked increase or decrease in the number of high-class foreign sex workers approaching Project X over the years. “It’s just always there,” she said.

“IF GOT DEMAND, SURE WILL HAVE SUPPLY”

To the average Internet user in Singapore, however, the array of options must seem staggering. There are personal websites like Dalia’s, websites run by escort agencies, sex forums and where it’s most rampant - online classifieds such as Backpage, Skokka, Locanto and Yelp. The vice syndicate apprehended in the May police sting had been advertising on at least 10 such different platforms.

A website run by an escort agency which appears to be operating out of Singapore.

Browsing these classifieds over a month-long period, Channel NewsAsia found a revolving door of hundreds upon hundreds of new escort listings daily - albeit with a majority of repeat entries.

A typical listing provides the escort’s name (which can change from week to week), age, nationality, physical description, services offered and price - the highest spotted being S$2,000 an hour.

Escort listings on the Singapore edition of the Backpage classifieds website.

Dalia has a Backpage listing too - where she cites her age as 20 and her location in Singapore as “an upscale hotel” in the Robertson Quay area. Her accepted “donations” range from S$600 an hour to S$1,400 for three hours. 

The listing was first posted on May 26. Dalia said she planned to leave Singapore by the end of June and “move on to her next destination”.

Another online avenue is the long-running and infamous Sammyboy forum. The website has provided Gary (not his real name), in his late 30s, with most of his high-class foreign escorts for a few years.

“I got to know Sammyboy from The Straits Times when I read an article on some sexual stuff. Then I went to Google and explored … and there was no turning back,” he told Channel NewsAsia.

With an annual income of over S$100,000, Gary budgets his sexual exploits to up to twice a month. “Usually I just surf the forum, wait for nice reviews, then try. And it depends on my mood,” he explained.

A section on the Sammyboy forum website which advertises foreign escort services.

He claims to have slept with women from the West, Japan, China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Philippines and Singapore.

Gary also expressed little concern over the recent police activity potentially jeopardising future exploits. “If got demand, sure will have supply,” he insisted.

It was a point made by Tan as well. “With the sex industry … Even though you don’t have actual statistics, it’s almost commonsensical to know it’s pretty much a demand and supply thing.”

“DIFFERENT THAN PROSTITUTES”

Gary and others like him may well represent a minority of Singaporean men - at least according to Dalia, who said she entertains requests from foreigners more than locals.

Her typical clientele comprises men from 35 to 55, working in corporate fields and “typically managers, IT guys and engineers”.

“They see companions because they have a very busy schedule with their work and they don't have time for conventional dating ways our society has to offer,” she said. “High-class escorts are way different than prostitutes in low-end brothels. The people I see do not look for just sex, but a romantic, personal experience.”

Added Dalia, whose website describes her as a part-time student: “Because I am in a better financial situation, I can save up for my education and enhance the quality of my life. That is not to go shopping on my side but to take courses and to travel more."

“Some do choose this profession because it’s the best opportunity out there, or maybe they’re students funding a PhD for example,” said Ho. “There’s a very wide spectrum as to why people enter this industry."