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Vice in the heartlands: 6 sex workers arrested in Woodlands

Vice in the heartlands: 6 sex workers arrested in Woodlands

Sex workers who were arrested in an HDB flat in Woodlands during a raid on an illegal brothel on Oct 25, 2019. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

SINGAPORE: From the outside, there is nothing out of the ordinary about this ground-floor flat in Woodlands fronted by a cream door, which anyone could walk past and miss.

But step inside, and it is teeming with tell-tale signs of paid sex, much like a brothel.

The house is so dim that you look around for a light switch, only to realise that the lights are already turned on, but their glare has been intentionally muted.

In the living room, only one bulb from a chandelier casts a dim orange glow. In the rooms, the ceiling lights are spray-painted black.

Almost double the size of a four-room flat, the apartment is illegally partitioned to accommodate more rooms and business.

A plastic bag covers the lights of a room in an illegal brothel in Woodlands. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

The living room is devoid of furniture, except for a dining table laden with sauces and dips and a half-drunk cup of juice. 

There are seven rooms, four of which were used for prostitution. Gold-plated numbers mark the doors, with revised numbers on post-its stuck beside them.


In one of the rooms, four women sit side by side under the watchful eye of a female police officer. 

They are all dressed up, but have their heads bowed after being caught in a vice raid on Oct 25.

Their faces cannot be captured, to keep their identities confidential. 

Packets of condoms in a drawer found during a raid at an illegal brothel on Oct 25, 2019. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

They are among six foreign nationals who were arrested that day in two vice raids in Woodlands.

The women who were arrested appear to be part of a growing trend. The police have observed that vice activities are moving to residential estates, as operators use online platforms to advertise and solicit for clients.

A tour of the rooms gets confusing, as they start to look the same save for the colours of the bedsheets, which lay rumpled.

One of the rooms at an illegal brothel in Woodlands, taken in October 2019. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Used towels sit abandoned on the floor, mouthwash sit in cups, ready to give the parties involved an instant hit of freshness.

In one of the rooms, a drawer is left open, full of unopened condoms from a little-known brand. On the bed lies a pack of a candy-like assortment of pills, suspected to be sexual enhancement drugs.

Suspected sexual enhancement pills found within one of the rooms during the raid at an illegal brothel on Oct 25, 2019. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)


In another room, the smell of smoke is long gone, but a newly-opened gold pack of cigarettes is on the table, a plastic cup of an ashtray on the floor. It is half-filled with water and has seen a stick or two. 

Scrunched up clothes are strewn on the bed, as if they had been removed in a hurry.

When it is time for the women to leave the flat, one of them smiles as she is escorted by police officers to retrieve her luggage from another room, bound by cuffs to another woman.Cigarettes found among other items during the raid at an illegal brothel in Oct 2019. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

There is laughter as they enter the police van, cuffed in pairs.

As they are led away, children and teenagers continue to play and giggle at a playground nearby.

READ: Sex work in Singapore: Will changes to the Women’s Charter be enough to tackle exploitation?

Neighbours CNA spoke to said the door to the flat was always closed, its occupants always shuttered in.

"We have block parties and block gatherings. We know one another. The owners come out to mingle, but that unit, they don't leave their windows or doors open," said financial consultant Barry Chua, 51.

Others said they noticed that the tenants were all women, and that they would sometimes roll luggage in and out.


Earlier in the day, the police raided another unit in Woodlands - a four-room HDB flat on the fifth level, which turned up two suspects.

It looks like a typical home from the 80s - with a glass showcase displaying a ceramic Chinese lucky cat and pig figurines.

What sets it apart are two hand-written signs in Chinese. One, outside a room, says: "It’s late in the night so keep your volume down. Don’t disturb other people." 

Sex workers who were arrested in an HDB flat in Woodlands during a raid on an illegal brothel on Oct 25, 2019. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

The other, outside the kitchen where there is a toilet, reads: "Please, every beautiful woman, maintain the hygiene. Clean the hair off the floor after showers."

The two suspects are in one of the rooms, and the condoms that were discovered are displayed on the bed along with a made-in-China lubricant. 

Pink lingerie hangs against a cupboard in the room. Inside the cupboard is a peek into other clothes the women wear, a white halter cropped top with sequins, a white t-shirt and a striped spaghetti-strap top.One of two signs seen inside an illegal brothel in Woodlands. (Photo: Jalelah Abu Baker)

The women are  handcuffed to each other and their belongings packed in luggage. They use their hair to cover their faces as the police lead them away.

The neighbourhood is quiet and there are not many onlookers, save for an elderly man who whips out his phone, and an elderly woman who has stopped to watch the commotion after putting out her bamboo poles of clothes to dry.


“Vice syndicates and online sex workers are providing sexual services in the heartlands. This has caused significant inconvenience to residents and has affected their sense of safety and security," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police Deculan Goh.

One of two signs seen inside an illegal brothel in Woodlands. (Photo: Jalelah Abu Baker)

He warned that homeowners, tenants and property agents who knowingly let out their premises for vice activities will be prosecuted. Under the Women’s Charter. they may be fined up to S$3,000, jailed for up to three years, or both. 

READ: In pictures: 38 arrested for gambling, vice activities in police raids

The police urged property owners to perform identity checks and face-to-face interviews. If they are based overseas, they should get help in doing so, they said.

Those found acting as agents or pimps for vice activities will be prosecuted under the Women’s Charter and may be fined up to S$10,000 and jailed  for up to five years.

Source: CNA/ja(hm)


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