Red lights go out in Singapore
Virus shuts Geylang brothels, writes Joe Brock
Shortly after midnight yesterday, a young Asian sex worker stepped out of a brothel in Singapore’s deserted red light district and rolled a wheelie bin to the side of the street.
Two hours earlier, the vibrant Geylang neighbourhood was having a more typical night — men negotiating with pimps on the street as women in tight dresses tapped at phones inside neonlit houses alongside.
Singapore closed bars, nightclubs and cinemas from yesterday until the end of April in an effort to contain a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
Although the announcement made no mention of the government-sanctioned brothels in Geylang, pimps and sex workers said they were passed the message that they too would need to close.
“I got nice girls for you. Might be your last chance for a while,” a grizzled pimp mumbled in the hours before midnight outside one of the dozens of brothels dotted along Geylang’s streets, which are monitored by police security cameras.
Singapore announced massive stimulus measures on Thursday to soften the economic shock from the coronavirus outbreak, including generous cash handouts for locals. But for the hundreds of low-income Asian migrant sex workers and nightclub entertainers in the wealthy city-state, there is huge uncertainty about their future.
“I don’t know how we’ll survive,” said one freelance sex worker. “We don’t get looked after like people in other jobs.”
Singapore, known for its strict laws, does not explicitly criminalise prostitution although aspects of the industry are illegal, including soliciting, pimping and running a brothel.
That has not stopped the sex trade operating in the Asian financial hub, from rendezvous in high-end hotel bars to the infamous Orchard Towers, a drab 1970s commercial building in Singapore’s prime shopping district.
Orchard Towers is now closed with police tape around its entrances.
“What am I gonna do now?” said one young woman in a sequined dress as men shuffled out of the tower’s drinking holes, on Thursday night.
“I guess we’ll work something out, honey. People still got to have fun.”