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Singapore passed the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act in November last year, thanks to the initiative and efforts of MP Christopher de Souza and his team. While the legislation is not fully compliant with international standards, it signalled and motivated an increased understanding of a global issue by the government as well as the relevant agencies. We also understand that there have been efforts on the part of the government to train law enforcers to identify potential victims of trafficking.
However, in the report on the vice raids in the heartlands by Today (9 July 2015), it is uncertain whether the law enforcers acknowledged the need for an in-depth investigation as to whether or not trafficking has taken place. In fact, the report immediately portrayed all the women as criminals, as is evident from the choice of the photograph that served to shame and stigmatise the women—intentionally or not. It would be unthinkable if any of the women have been trafficked and yet were publicly shamed in our newspapers, thereby causing more harm than good.
That said, even if they are consenting sex workers, fuelling and encouraging discriminatory mindsets only serves to encourage abusive behaviours towards them. Project X recorded over 50 reports of violence and abuse just in 2015. These forms of crimes often do not get reported simply because sex workers are afraid to go to the police. This lack of trust in the police force by sex workers is worrying, as it is the same lack of trust that deters potential victims of trafficking from seeking help from law enforcers.
Understandably, citizens are concerned that vice activities are taking place outside of the designated red-light districts. And it is important to signal to vice syndicates that they are not immune from the law if they do not apply for a license. However, before a comprehensive investigation has been conducted, we should not jump to conclusions which may cause re-victimization. It is not just our basic human right to be given an impartial investigation and a fair trial, but also an exercise in prudence.
Jolovan Wham (范国瀚）
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) 情义之家