Members pay up to $5k a month for photos of girls in skimpy outfits, their company at parties
A former bodybuilder has come under fire after he offered pictures of girls, and the chance to spend time with them, in exchange for monthly payments of up to $5,000.
Depending on the amount pledged, subscribers are promised photos of the girls - known as SgInstaBabes on social media - in revealing outfits such as bikinis, and would be able to join them at private yacht parties in return.
This was part of a controversial membership programme launched by the group's founder, Mr Lai Wee Kiat, last week on the website Patreon, which has since drawn sharp criticism from the public for its similarities to social escort services.
Some netizens have also questioned the age of the girls involved and whether the programme would put them at risk of sexual harassment and exploitation.
Following the backlash, the group's Instagram page has since been shut down, although the Patreon campaign is still up.
Lawyers that ST spoke to said that while the membership programme is not illegal if the girls are 16 years old and above, the events organised for subscribers could put the girls at risk of sexual grooming and exploitation.
This is because subscribers to the membership programme may have the impression the girls "have consented to being there and to all acts that can potentially follow suit", said lawyer Gloria James-Civetta.
When contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Lai said the programme, which has 90 members currently, is not a social escort service.
Instead, he said there is "nothing sleazy about it" and "there is nothing beyond partying and fun".
"It's sad that the public can only think that the only purpose of these benefits is sexualisation and objectification," said Mr Lai, 28, a Malaysian.
He said the youngest girl who has taken part in photo shoots which he helps organise is 14 years old.
The oldest member of the 30-strong group is 24 years old.
"I think photo shoots are to bring out the beauty of people... no matter how young they are. It's very normal for girls to do photo shoots... I guess the general public doesn't understand that it's an art form."
Nevertheless, he said under the membership programme, the minimum age for photo shoots would be set at 16 years old, while only girls 18 and above would participate in the parties. He said the events under the programme would also be held in groups.
Following the backlash, some of the girls featured on the site are distancing themselves from the programme. Some told ST that they were unaware that their photos from previous shoots facilitated by Mr Lai would be used on the site.
One of them, a 14-year-old girl, said she "knew nothing" about the programme before it was launched.
The Secondary 3 student who declined to be named said she was "upset" when she found out her bikini photos were used on the site without her permission. The photos have been removed after her father contacted Mr Lai and requested they be taken down, she said.
Former SgInstaBabes member Vivian Ang, 20, told ST she had felt pressured to agree to the use of her photos on Patreon, but "wasn't aware about how my photos would be shared" with those who sign up for membership.
The photos, which featured Ms Ang and three other girls in lingerie, were promised to subscribers who pledged at least $10 a month under the programme. They were taken last month during a shoot facilitated by Mr Lai for a clothing brand so that the promotional photos could be posted on her personal Instagram account in return for clothes and $80 cash, said Ms Ang.
"I was actually very taken aback (when I found out), but at that point in time, I felt like I couldn't do anything about it," said the Singapore Polytechnic graduate who is currently taking a gap year.
She added that she was not aware beforehand of the promises of private parties under the programme. "I think it's ridiculous. I wouldn't be comfortable doing it and I don't think any of the girls would be," she added.
She said she quit SgInstaBabes on Monday. The photos of her from the lingerie photoshoot have also since been taken down from the Patreon site.
When asked if he would be continuing with the membership programme, Mr Lai said he has yet to decide. However, he said he would no longer be managing SgInstaBabes.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.