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Raid or not... here they come

Joo Chiat residents say scantily clad women always return despite frequent police visits. -TNP
Rennie Whang

Wed, Aug 15, 2012
The New Paper

Some of the 38 women arrested in the raid.

Not in my backyard, they cried.

But this time, few would disagree.

Residents in Joo Chiat and Geylang are tired of vice-related activities in their neighbourhood.

They said that although the police hit hard and often, the girls keep coming back.

Last Saturday, 38 women were arrested in a raid at two entertainment outlets in Joo Chiat.

On Aug 5, 12 women, including Thais and Vietnamese, were arrested in an anti-vice raid in Geylang.

This comes after arrests of at least 85 people in the last two months, for suspected involvement in vice in Geylang.

And that number doesn't even include those arrested as members of online vice syndicates.

Residents said that following a raid, the neighbourhood will be quiet again. But only for a few days.

When The New Paper visited Joo Chiat yesterday, the two clubs in Saturday's raid appeared to be still in operation.

But two clubgoers in the area said it was quieter than usual.

Said one, who wanted to be known only as Alan, 24: "A lot of the girls left last night. I don't think there will be many 'spare' ones for tonight."

Another resident, who was visiting the nearby Khalid Mosque, was certain that a different set of women would soon appear.

Said the man, who wanted to be known only as MrHassan, 66: "They will go for a few days. But after a few days, more willl come."

"It's difficult for the Government to stop them as they visit as tourists. You can't differentiate between bad and good girls at the airport."

Both Alan and another clubgoer, who wanted to be known only as Gary, 50, said Saturday's raid occurred at about 10pm.

Both men were in one of the pubs at the time.

They said that four policemen went to the back of the club and barricaded the exit with chairs while another three stood by the entrance.

The police did a headcount and checked everyone's identity cards, they said, adding that there were about 60 girls in the club, all Vietnamese.

On the streets outside, eight vans - four from the police, and four private ones - waited.

Said Alan: "The vans were crowded, and the girls cried a lot.

"Some of them just got off the plane yesterday."

A security officer in the area said the two pubs affected had been in operation for between five to 10 years.

Raids along that stretch of road - and especially at the two clubs - have become more frequent in the past year, said a 60-year-old man, who wanted to be known only as Roland.

He said: "Sometimes the police even come once a week. They make it hard for the clubs to do business."

The men interviewed are reluctant to be identified as they fear "retribution" - while the women may have been rounded up, their pimps or "agents" still operate in the area.

The stretch used to have more than 10 pubs, but they've now been whittled down to about 5, the men said.

But the women have become more brazen, some even taking their trade out into the open.

Said another man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ong, 34: "It's getting more crowded out on the streets, where they just stand around.

"There are fights every two weeks, or monthly."

Vietnamese girls have been in the area since 2004, said one business owner who declined to be named.

A part-time worker near the mosque, Mr Muhammed Ismaeel, 37, told TNP that there were just "too many of (the girls)".

"People are doing business and they are walking around scantily clad. It's not respectful," he said.

But residents and business owners agreed that there have been more checks by the police.

And the number of pubs has been dropping.

While Joo Chiat Road had 44 pubs, 38 massage parlours and eight hotels in 2004, that fell to 26 pubs, three massage parlours and six hotels by October 2010.

Back then, residents banded together to form the Save Joo Chiat Working Group.

The number of women arrested for vice there dropped from about 400 a year in 2007 to just 40 in 2009.

'More sleaze elsewhere'

Said one resident, who wanted to be known only as Sean, 34, a sales executive: "Now there are design studios and concept stores in the area. Other places have more sleaze.

"There's still room for improvement though."

Police said the 38 women in Saturday's raid were arrested for unlawful employment offences. They were aged between 18 and 38.

Women in such clubs could be here on social visit passes or on performance artiste work permits, said the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics's executive director Jolovan Wham.

He said: "I'm concerned that the authorities are unable to identify women who have been trafficked and they may end up being charged in court for illegal work.

"But whether the women are pressured to have sexual relations with the clubs' customers or not, I'm concerned about exploitation that goes on in some of these clubs - withheld wages, no days off, arbitrary deductions of salaries, violence and physical abuse."

The Manpower Ministry appears to be tightening its performance artiste work permits.

Joo Chiat isn't the only place where sleaze is next door to homes.

Last month, TNP reported that residents in Geylang's Jalan Suka were concerned with their area's increasing number of streetwalkers.

The police have launched a series of raids in the area to flush out the vice trade. but some residents aren't content to just sit back and wait.

Tired of the streetwalkers in residential areas, a blogger posted pictures of men visiting Geylang for vice.

The site's female founder said she was doing so to expose men who cheat on loved ones.

The blog has since been made accessible only by invitation.

"They will go for a few days. But after a few days, more willl come. It's difficult for the Government to stop them as they visit as tourists. You can't differentiate between bad and good girls at the airport."

- A Joo Chiat resident who wanted to be known only as Mr Hassan

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